Apocryphal books illustrative of Jewish antiquities -- Tobit pays three tithes -- Judith dedicates spoils of war -- Offerings by Demetrius, Heliodorus, King Seleucus, and Judas Maccabeus -- Liberality and tithe-paying urged in Tobit and Ecclesiasticus -- Summary of evidence from Apocrypha.
WE now proceed (in the next three chapters) to the study of tithe-paying and religious beneficence as taught and practiced in Palestine during the period between the Old and New Testaments; taking as our sources of information the Apocrypha and the Talmud.
Whatever may be thought, theologically, of the doctrinal authority of the books of the Apocrypha, their antiquity and oriental authorship make them valuable as illustrating the ideas and customs of the period of which they are historical documents. Bearing this in mind, we proceed to search therein for passages concerning tithes, firstfruits, and religious offerings, as well as for examples of, and exhortations to, private beneficence generally. The books giving us most information on our subject are Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, and Maccabees.
The book of Tobit is especially useful in showing that it was thought right for a good man, as already observed, to pay three tithes; that is to say, an annual tenth for the Levites, a second tenth for the yearly festivals, and, triennially, a tenth for the poor, Tobit 1:7-8.
Tobit himself is represented as a liberal giver. To Gabael, who had accompanied Tobias, the son of Tobit, to Nineveh, and faithfully brought him back with goods, servants, cattle, and money, both father and son thought it not too much to give a half of what had been brought, which represented ample wages and something more, Tobit 12:1-2. Also we read of Tobit that he did many almsdeeds to his brethren and his nation, for in the days of Shalmaneser he gave his bread to the hungry and his garments to the naked, and if he saw any of the race of Israel dead and cast forth on the wall of Nineveh, he buried him, Tobit 1:3-16.
Passing now to the book of Judith, we find recorded an instance of the world-wide practice of vows and offerings made in prospect of war, followed by presentation of spoils after victory. Thus:
"Joakim the high priest . . . offered the continual burnt offering, and the vows and free gifts of the people: and they had ashes on their mitres, and they cried unto the Lord with all their power, that He would look upon the house of Israel for good," Judith 4:14-15.
Further, when Judith had cut off the head of Holofernes, we read that the people offered their whole burnt offerings, freewill offerings, and their gifts, and that Judith dedicated all the stuff of Holofernes which the people had given her, and gave the canopy, which she had taken for herself, out of his bedchamber, for a gift unto the Lord, Judith 16:18-19.
Some regard the books of Tobit and Judith not as real histories, but as pious and instructive stories only. But even if this be so, the stories may be presumed to reflect the manners and customs of their age; and for our purpose they harmonize with the statements of the first book of the Maccabees, which is certainly, in the main, historical. Thus, on the cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus, we read they "offered sacrifice according to the law, upon the new altar of burnt offerings," I Maccabees 4:53, and in the same chapter it is related that among the promises made by Demetrius to secure the support of the Jews, one was that Ptolemais and its lands should be given to the Temple at Jerusalem, for the expenses that befit the sanctuary, I Maccabees 4:39.
Furthermore, in the second book of the Maccabees it is stated that the kings of the Gentiles glorified the Temple with the noblest presents, and that Seleucus, the king of Asia, of his own revenues bore all the costs belonging to the service of the sacrifices, II Maccabees 3:3.
Likewise, in the case of Heliodorus, chancellor of the governor of Coelo-Syria, we have a Gentile officer who, being struck with a loathsome disease, was prayed for by Onias, the high-priest; whereupon, on recovery, Heliodorus offered a sacrifice unto Jehovah, and vowed great vows unto Him that had saved his life, II Maccabees 3:35.
Again, king Seleucus, smitten on his way to Jerusalem by disease, vowed unto the Sovereign Lord, saying on this wise:
"That the holy city to which he was going in haste, to lay it even with the ground, and to make it a common graveyard, he would declare free: and, as touching the Jews whom he had decided not even to count worthy of burial, but to cast them out to the beasts, with their infants, for the birds to devour, he would make them all equal to citizens of Athens; and the holy sanctuary, which before he had spoiled, he would adorn with goodliest offerings, and would restore all the sacred vessels many times multiplied, and out of his own revenues would defray the charges that were required for the sacrifices; and, besides all this, that he would become a Jew, and would visit every inhabited place, publishing abroad the might of God," II Maccabees 9:14, 17.
Yet another charitable action is attributed to Judas Maccabeus, who, on discovering that his Jewish followers had acted wrongly in touching dead bodies of idolaters, exhorted the multitude to keep themselves from sin. "And when he had made a collection, man by man, to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent into Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice for sin, doing therein right well and honorably," II Maccabees 12:38-43.
If now we pass from alleged facts, to principles, or exhortations concerning religious giving, we have Tobit saying: "Give of thy bread to the hungry, and of thy garments to them that are naked: of all thine abundance give alms," Tobit 4:16.
It is also clear that the author of the book of Tobit regarded the giving of alms as pleasing to God, and a means of obtaining the divine blessing. He also thought that giving should be done with discrimination, and in proportion to a man's income. Exhorting his young son as to his manner of life, Tobit says:
"Give alms of thy substance; and when thou givest alms, let not thine eye by envious: turn not away thy face from any poor man, and the face of God shall not be turned away from thee. As thy substance is, give alms of it according to thine abundance: if thou have little, be not afraid to give alms according to that little; for thou layest up a good treasure for thyself against the day of necessity: because alms delivereth from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness. Alms is a good gift in the sight of the Most High for all that give it," Tobit 4:7-11.
And to show that almsgiving should be performed with discrimination, he added: "Pour out thy bread on the burial of the just, and give nothing to sinners," Tobit 4:16-17.
Later on in life Tobit advised his son Tobias thus:
"Good is prayer with fastings and alms, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with unrighteousness. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms doth deliver from death, and it shall purge away all sin. They that do alms and righteousness shall be filled with life," Tobit 12:8-10.
It is noteworthy also that the principles practiced during early life, Tobit could recommend still in old age; for we read that on recovering his sight, at threescore and six, "he gave alms, and feared the Lord more and more," whilst the concluding words of his deathbed saying were: "And now, my children, consider what alms doeth, and how righteousness doth deliver," Tobit 14:2-11.
These principles, taught in Tobit, are re-echoed and enlarged upon in Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, wherein we read, concerning gifts to God and His ministers, "My son, according as thou hast, do well unto thyself, and bring offerings unto the Lord worthily," Ecclesiaticus 14:11. More fully this same writer says:
"He that keepeth the law multiplieth offerings; He that taketh heed to the commandments sacrificeth a peace offering. He that requiteth a good turn offereth fine flour: And he that giveth alms sacrificeth a thank offering. To depart from wickedness is a thing pleasing to the Lord; And to depart from unrighteousness is a propitiation. See that thou appear not in the presence of the Lord empty. For all these things are to be done because of the commandment. The offering of the righteous maketh the altar fat; And the sweet savour thereof is before the Most High. The sacrifice of a righteous man is acceptable; And the memorial thereof shall not be forgotten. Glorify the Lord with a good eye, And stint not the firstfruits of thine hands. In every gift show a cheerful countenance, And dedicate thy tithes with gladness. Give unto the Most High according as He hath given; And as thy hand hath found, give with a good eye. For the Lord recompenseth, And He will recompense thee sevenfold," Ecclesiasticus 35:1-11.
The following is much to the same effect: "Fear the Lord with all thy soul;And reverence His priests. With all thy strength love Him that made thee: And forsake not His ministers. Fear the Lord and glorify the priest: And give him his portion, even as it is commanded thee: The firstfruits, and the trespass offering, and the gift of the shoulders, And the sacrifice of sanctification, and the firstfruits of holy things. Also to the poor man stretch out thy hand, That thy blessing may be perfected," Ecclesiasticus 7:29-32.
This last sentence takes our thoughts from religious offerings to God, to almsgiving to men, concerning which the son of Sirach says: "Water will quench a flaming fire; And almsgiving will make atonement for sins," Ecclesiasticus 3:30.
Again: "Be not faint-hearted in thy prayer; And neglect not to give alms," Ecclesiasticus 7:10.
Once more: "With Him the alms of a man is as a signet; And He will keep the bounty of a man as the apple of the eye," Ecclesiasticus 17:22.
But, at the same time, alms were not recommended to be given to all alike, as the following shows: "There shall no good come to him that continueth to do evil, Nor to him that giveth no alms. Give to the godly man, And help not the sinner. Do good to one that is lowly, And give not to an ungodly man: Keep back his bread, and give it not to him, Lest he overmaster thee thereby: For thou shalt receive twice as much evil. For all the good thou shalt have done unto him. For the Most High also hateth sinners, And will repay vengeance unto the ungodly. Give to the good man, And help not the sinner," Ecclesiasticus 12:3-7.
There yet remain to be noticed a few passages in Ecclesiasticus, some of which look at almsgiving from quite a lofty point of view. Thus:
"Shut up alms in thy store-chambers [i.e. for beneficent purposes], And it shall deliver thee out of all affliction: It shall fight for thee against thine enemy, Better than a mighty shield and a ponderous spear," Ecclesiasticus 29:12-13.
Once more: "He that sacrificeth of a thing wrongfully gotten, His offering is made in mockery. And the mockeries of wicked men are not well pleasing. The Most High hath no pleasure in the offerings of the ungodly, Neither is He pacified for sins by the multitude of sacrifices. As one that killeth the son before his father's eyes, Is he that bringeth a sacrifice from the goods of the poor," Ecclesiasticus 34:18-20.
If now we summarize what we have gathered upon our subject from the Apocrypha, we notice first, and negatively, that we have found no passages implying that the payment of tithes and other offerings was repealed, or fell into disuse, during the period succeeding the return of the Jews from captivity, to the final destruction of their temple, or, say, during the three centuries preceding the Christian era.
On the contrary, we have met with historical incidents and allusions showing that the temple services, as restored by Ezra and Nehemiah, were continued under a regular priesthood, which suggests payment in the form of tithes and offerings from the people. The laws of the Pentateuch are still recognized as the standard of right giving. Seleucus and Heliodorus, like the kings of Babylon, contribute to the Jewish temple. Tobit is represented as paying three tithes, and Judith as dedicating her spoils of war; and all this is in harmony with the canonical books of the Old Testament.
Moreover, the Apocrypha rises to a still higher platform in the enunciation of lofty principles concerning almsgiving in general; for abundant, discriminating, proportionate giving of alms, accompanied with prayer and fasting, is strongly urged upon all. He who would keep the law is instructed to multiply offerings, none appearing in the presence of God empty-handed. The reasons given, are, that alms are pleasing to God; that, when rightly offered, they deliver from death, and purge away sin. Also, it is promised, as leading to temporal prosperity, that the Lord will recompense the liberal giver sevenfold. He is exhorted, accordingly, in every gift to show a cheerful countenance, and to dedicate his tithes with gladness.
Table of Contents Chapter 8