Working of tithe laws during two further periods: III. Under Judah and Israel -- Reformations under Asa and Jehoshaphat -- Giving in the times of Elijah and Elisha -- Church repairs under Joash -- Amos on Israel's tithes. -- Hezekiah's restoration of Passover, tithe-paying, and firstfruits -- Temple repairs and offerings under Josiah -- IV. After the Captivity -- Offerings from Cyrus -- Rebuilding and presents to Temple under Ezra -- Malachi's "robbery" for withholding tithes -- Nehemiah's offering, and the people's oath concerning tithes -- Tithing organized -- Review of tithing from Joshua to Malachi.
WE have now reached the high-water mark of religious giving in the Old Testament; and our next period, under the rival kings of Judah and Israel, is a period of declension, though retarded from time to time by temporary endeavors at reformation.
The schismatical Jeroboam found it politic to imitate the law of Moses in ordaining a feast like that held in Judah, and in sacrificing and placing priests at Bethel, I Kings 12:32. When, however, his own son was ill, he sent to inquire of the prophet Ahijah, at Shiloh, by his wife, who, in disguise, took as a present ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, I Kings 14:3, a suitable religious offering, presumably, at that time for a well-to-do woman of the country.
A little later, in Asa, king of Judah, we have godly man, to whom is vouchsafed victory over the Ethiopians, and thereby much spoil:
"And they sacrificed unto the Lord in that day, of the spoil which they had brought, 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep . . . . And Asa brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated, and that he himself had dedicated, silver, and gold, and vessels," II Chronicles 14:13, 15:11-18; I Kings 15:15.
This, however, was of the nature of a reformation; for Azariah, the son of Oded, reminded Asa that for a long season Israel had been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law, II Chronicles 15:3. Furthermore, a similar work of reformation was carried on by Jehoshaphat his successor, who sent out teaching princes, Levites, and priests. "And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them," so that "the fear of Jehovah fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah," II Chronicles 17:7-10.
This brings us to the days of Elijah and Elisha, in connection with whom we have several instances of pious beneficence in private life. Foremost among them is the widow of Zarephath, who had but a handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse, but who, nevertheless, made thereof, first a cake for the Lord's prophet, I Kings 17:12-15.
Then follows the case of the godly Obadiah, who, although connected with Ahab's heathenish court, yet feared Jehovah greatly, and took a hundred prophets, persecuted by Jezebel, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water, I Kings 18:4. We also read in the same chapter of the sacrifice of bullocks to Baal and to Jehovah, respectively, on Mount Carmel, I Kings 18.
As for Elisha, we remember the kind hospitality afforded him, as a man of God, by the woman of Shunem, who prepared for him a little chamber on the wall, II Kings 4:8-10. It seems also to have been customary for the people to bring offerings to Elisha: for "there came a man from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of corn," with which Elisha furnished a meal for the people, II Kings 4:42.
The present which Naaman brought to Elisha was evidently intended to be a valuable one, consisting, as it did, of robes and talents of silver -- a typical acknowledgment of expected help form the prophet in the cure of leprosy, II Kings 5:22-23. Benhadad also, when sending Hazael to inquire whether his master would recover of his sickness, sent forty camel-loads of every good thing of Damascus, II Kings 8:8-9.
The last-mentioned two instances of religious offering are by Gentiles from outside the land of Israel. Another instance of religious dedication is that of Mesha, king of Moab, who, in a beleaguered city, took his eldest son and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall, II Kings 3:27. Again, the prophet Jonah is thought to have lived about this time; and if so, the proposal to offer to the gods their passenger as a sacrifice, by casting him overboard, would not be an abnormal or strange notion to Jonah's shipmates. Moreover, observing that after so doing the sea became calm, they deemed their prayer answered, feared Jehovah exceedingly, offered a sacrifice, and made vows, Jonah 1:15-16.
This mixing up of true and false religious worship and offerings is further illustrated by Jehu, who proclaimed that he had a great sacrifice to do to Baal, then put to death Baal's priests, II Kings 10:19-25.
We now come to the days of the youthful Joash, who did right so long as he was directed by Jehoiada the priest. Even the wicked Athaliah, who had broken up the house of God, bestowed the dedicated things upon the Baalim, II Chronicles 24:2-7. Joash accordingly proposed to the priests that all the money of the dedicated things brought into the house of the Lord, and all voluntary gifts, should be taken for temple repairs. But the priests did not forward the matter: whereupon Joash asked why the repairs were not done; after which the priests consented to receive no more money of the people; but neither did they consent to make good the repairs, II Kings 12:4-8.
The king, however, being minded to restore the house of the Lord, gathered the priests and Levites, and said to them: "Go out unto the cities of Judah, and gather of all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year." But the Levites did not bestir themselves, II Chronicles 24:5.
Then the king commanded, and they made a chest, bored a hole in the lid, and set it beside the altar; and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house. This money was given to the workmen for repairs, but not expended for making sacred vessels. Also the trespass-money and sin-money were not brought into the house of the Lord: it was the priests, II Kings 12:9-16. We read again of this chest, or one like it, set without, at the gate of the house of the Lord, II Chronicles 24:8, concerning which they made a proclamation, throughout Judah and Jerusalem, to bring in for the Lord the tax (presumably the half shekel, Exodus 30:13), that Moses the servant of God laid upon Israel in the wilderness. Thus they gathered money in abundance. The workmen wrought, and when they had finished the house, they made of the rest of the money vessels for the temple, after which, we read, they offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord continually all the days of Jehoiada, II Chronicles 24:4-14.
But after the death of Jehoiada, Joash forsook the house of Jehovah, and, with the princes, fell away to idols, so that wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for their guiltiness, II Chronicles 24:17-18.
Nor do things appear to have been any better at this time in Israel, if we may judge from the ironical and derisive words of Amos, who prophesied some few year later:
"Come to Bethel and transgress; to Gilgal and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes every three days; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, and publish them; for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel," Amos 4:5.
These sarcastic words seem to bid the people go on in their rebellion, reminding them, however, that they were already suffering punishment. "I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord," Amos 4:6.
This is the first time we have met with the word "tithes" since its occurrence in the Pentateuch; but tithes are now mentioned in such a way as to suggest that they were normally paid by Israel, only, in this case, for the worship of the golden calves. This condition of things, so far as Israel was concerned, was brought to a close by the carrying away of the ten tribes to Babylon, about B.C. 721.
As for the kingdom of Judah, the established religion had been almost annihilated under Ahaz, who sacrificed to the gods of Damascus, introduced strange worship into the temple, and then shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, II Chronicles 28:22-24; II Kings 16:12.
This was the condition of things when Hezekiah came to the throne, and that monarch in the first year of his reign re-opened the doors of the house of the Lord, II Chronicles 29:3. Incense and burnt offering had ceased, and the vessels of the house of the Lord had been cast away under Ahaz, II Chronicles 29:7-19. All this was at once changed by Hezekiah, who offered seven bullocks, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven he-goats for a sin offering; the Levites and priests were restored in the order prescribed by David; and the congregation offered 70 bullocks, 100 rams, and 200 lambs as burnt offerings. Also among the consecrated things were 600 oxen and 3,000 sheep; and the house of God was set in order, II Chronicles 29:21, 32-35. After this Hezekiah observed the Passover for fourteen days, giving for offerings 1,000 bullocks and 7,000 sheep; whilst the princes added 1,000 bullocks and 10,000 sheep, II Chronicles 30:24.
Now, when the priests and Levites were thus re-appointed, the king's portion of his substance for burnt offerings was arranged for the services according to the law; and Hezekiah commanded the people in Jerusalem to furnish the portion of the priests and Levites, that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord; whereupon, as soon as the commandment was promulgated, the children of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, oil, and honey, and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly; whilst the people living in the towns of Judah brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of dedicated things, and laid them by heaps, II Chronicles 31:3-6.
Questioned concerning these heaps, the chief priest said, "Since the people began to bring the oblations into the house of the Lord, we have eaten and had enough, and have left plenty; for the Lord hath blessed His people; and that which is left is this great store." Then Hezekiah prepared chambers in the house of the Lord, and the people brought faithfully oblations, tithes, and dedicated things, over which two Levites were appointed chief rulers, with ten overseers under them, II Chronicles 31:10-13. Besides this, another Levite was over the freewill offerings, and under him were six assistants to distribute the oblations of the Lord to the Levites in their courses, and to the priests in their cities; and in every town men were appointed to give portions to the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogy among the Levites, their little ones, wives, sons, and daughters, II Chronicles 31:14-19.
From this reformation by Hezekiah we may reasonably deduce that the closing of the temple had brought poverty upon the priests and Levites, but that, on the restoration of the services, the normal state of things was restored, and the payment anew of the tithes and offerings brought back peace and plenty.
The next king, Manasseh, re-established idolatry, and was taken captive to Babylon; but, being restored to his kingdom in Jerusalem in answer to prayer, he took away the strange gods out of the temple, built up the altar of Jehovah, and offered thereon sacrifices, II Chronicles 33:1-16. On the other hand, Amon, his son, sacrificed to the graven images which Manasseh, his father, had made, II Chronicles 33:22.
We now come to Josiah, the last of the reforming kings of Judah, who, after purging the land of idolatry, directed the money collected by the Levites at the door of the temple, from all Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem, as well as from the peoples of Manasseh, Ephraim, and the remnant of all Israel, to be expended on temple repairs. In the course of these repairs a copy of the law of the Lord was discovered. The king at once gathered the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, and they made a covenant to perform the law, and all the people stood to the covenant, II Kings 23:1-3.
Then Josiah kept a Passover, and gave of his own substance 3,000 bullocks and 30,000 sheep, lambs, and kids. Three rulers of the house of God gave to the priests, for Passover offerings, 2,600 small cattle and 300 oxen. Several chiefs of the Levites gave also to the Levites, for Passover offerings, 5,000 small cattle and 500 oxen, all being done as it is written in the law of Moses, II Chronicles 35:1-9, 12.
"Notwithstanding, the Lord turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath," but said, "I will remove Judah also out of My sight," II Kings 23:26-27, which was done by their being taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, about 588 B.C. This closes the period of decline under the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
We now pass to the re-settlement of Palestine by the captives returned from Babylon. During the period passed by the Jews in captivity they doubtless became lax in some of their religious observances; but about 536 B.C. Cyrus proclaimed that he was "charged" to build Jehovah a house at Jerusalem, and he offered facilities for the Jews to return.
Accordingly, when the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, prepared to leave, those remaining in Babylon "strengthened their hands with" gifts. Cyrus himself gave back the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple, "all the vessels of gold and silver being 5,400," Ezra 1:6-11, so that when the offerings of the king, his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel present, were weighed for the house of God at Jerusalem, the treasure amounted to "650 talents of silver, 100 talents of silver vessels, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold of 1,000 darics, and two vessels of fine copper precious as gold," Ezra 8:26-27.
On their arrival in Jerusalem, "some of the chiefs of the fathers . . . offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place. They gave after their ability . . . 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 pounds of silver, and 100 priests' robes," Ezra 2:68-69. We read also of a subsequent burnt offering, by returned captives, of 12 bullocks for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, and 12 he-goats for a sin offering, Ezra 8:35.
When the seventh month was come, the people "gathered as one man to Jerusalem," built the altar of the God of Israel, and restored the continual daily burnt offering, and other customary offerings, as well for the feasts, as for "every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord," Ezra 3:2-5.
The rebuilding of the temple having been stopped for some years, the work was again favored by King Darius, who ordered that of the king's goods expenses should be given to the builders:
"And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savour unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons," Ezra 6:8-10.
The house, accordingly, was finished, and the dedication kept with joy, the people offering at the dedication 100 bullocks, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and, for a sin offering, 12 he-goats; after which, "they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, as it is written in the book of Moses," Ezra 6:16-18.
So much, then, for information form the book of Ezra, which represents the worship of Jehovah restored, and the priests and Levites settled in their offices; but no mention is made as to how they were to be permanently supported. We read again of tithes, however, in the book of Nehemiah and in the prophecy of Malachi, who, by some, is thought to have been Nehemiah's contemporary and assistant in the work of reformation.
The prophet Malachi rebukes his contemporaries sharply for their defection from the law. He charges the priests with despising God's name in offering polluted bread upon the altar, and the blind, the lame, and the sick for sacrifice, Malachi 1:7-8, 4:4.
Furthermore, in reference to tithes, the prophet's words are still more drastic; and he calls the people "robbers" for withholding them:
"Will a man rob God? yet ye rob Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with the curse; for ye rob Me, even this whole nation. Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it," Malachi 3:8-10.
And almost the last words of Malachi are: "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant," Malachi 4:4.
In view of these exhortations, it is satisfactory to observe that Nehemiah himself gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, and 530 priests' robes. Heads of fathers' houses gave 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 pounds of silver; whilst the rest of the people gave 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 pounds of silver, and 67 priests' robes, Nehemiah 7:70-72.
Later on we have that remarkable gathering when the children of Israel "assembled fasting, and with sackcloth and earth upon them," at the conclusion of which they "entered into a curse, and into an oath to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God." The principal features of the oath were, not to marry heathens nor purchase on the sabbath; to leave the land to rest in the seventh year, and not to enforce debts:
"Also . . . we made ordinances for us to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God . . . . And we cast lots . . . for the wood offering to burn upon the altar . . . and to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all manner of trees, year by year, unto the house of the Lord; also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle . . . and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks . . . and the firstfruits of our dough, and our heave offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, the vintage and the oil, unto the priests . . . and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites . . . and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God . . . and we will not forsake the house of our God," Nehemiah 10:29-39.
Once more we read, that when the city wall was to be dedicated, the Levites were brought to Jerusalem, where they "offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced."
"And on that day were men appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the heave offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed by the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited," Nehemiah 12:27, 43-44.
How far, then, do these passages from the Old Testament illustrate the Mosaic law concerning tithes and offerings?
We may notice, in the first place, that, after the arrival of the Israelites in Canaan, the divine law was speedily put in force as a working institution. This included the rules for the devotion of tithes and offerings; and various intimations imply that the obligation of such tithes and offerings was actually and strictly recognized.
A central place of worship was established and sustained, whither the tribes went up to the feasts, in connection with which we read of priests and Levites by tens of thousands; or (if we add their families) by hundreds of thousands. These included not only those who waited about the altar, but the educational or teaching staff of the nation, as well as judicial officers, represented by Judges and magistrates, I Chronicles 23:4; Ezra 8:25.
To these persons were given several cities and their suburbs wherein to live; but their appointed means of support was a tithe of the increase of the land and of cattle, with other offerings of the people. No other opportunity of obtaining a livelihood remained to them; for the tribe or Levi was not reckoned when the land was divided. Regard, therefore, for the maintenance of the law, such as we have seen exemplified from time to time by the whole nation, to say nothing of civil advantages brought to the people by the Levites, forbid us to think that the people, under ordinary circumstances, defrauded the Levites of the portion assigned them by God.
We may further observe that the law of Moses not only proved practicable, but, so far as tithes and religious offerings are concerned, we do not find it complained of as burdensome or oppressive -- not even when, to pay Persian tribute, the people had mortgaged their lands, Nehemiah 5:3-4.
Nor do we read, during all the centuries in which tithe-paying was observed as a working institution, of any request being made that the tithe should be repealed or lessened. Even the heretical Jeroboam (if we rightly understand the words of Amos, see p. 67) does not appear to have abolished the payment of tithes for religious purposes.
Later on, when the people fell away to the worship of false gods, or were oppressed under a foreign yoke, we see how, in their times of humiliation, they took upon themselves afresh to observe the law of Moses, including tithes, always reverting to the Pentateuch as their standard of right living, but never questioning their obligation as to religious payments in general, or the proportion prescribed. It seems clear, indeed, that some of the people did not come up to the required standard during the reign of the wicked Ahaz, nor about the time of the return from captivity, when Malachi reproved such defaulters as "robbers of God." But these episodes seem to have been exceptions, and not the general rule.
Putting together, therefore, what we have thus far learned of our subject, we conclude that as secular history tells of other nations, such as the Babylonians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans, dedicating a tenth of their income and spoils to their gods, so the people of Israel, from their settlement in Canaan to the end of the period covered by the Old Testament, did likewise; the proportion payable by the Israelite, being a tenth applied to the use of the ministers of the sanctuary, and other tenths and offerings as prescribed by the law of the Pentateuch.
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