Sermons I’ve Never Heard on Tithing

11,000 year-old temple Gobelki Tepi in Turkey
11,000 year-old temple Gobelki Tepi in Turkey

I actually calculated that I’ve heard over 2,500 sermons, which should have covered just about everything. However, pastors are just human beings and they have their human assumptions and traditions and blind spots, just like everyone else.

One popular subject for sermons is tithing. You should give one-tenth of your income to the church. Lots of sermons on this one! Here are some scriptures to back it up:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10)

This is supposed to mean that God will bless you abundantly if you faithfully give ten percent of your income to the church.

Here’s another:

“‘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 (Leviticus 27:3)

This is supposed to mean that one tenth of everything belongs to the Lord and if you do not give it to the church, you are robbing God!

Imagine my surprise when I read what you’re supposed to do with your tithe.

Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord.  And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. Deuteronomy 12:11,12

You’re supposed to eat it and rejoice with your family. It’s a party.

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

Either bring the food or sell it and bring silver to buy food and eat it with your family and rejoice. But what about the priests and the storehouse?

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29)

So, every three years you bring a tenth of your produce and give it to the priest to store for himself and for the indigent.

This is very different from the sermons I have heard. The tithes and offerings were to be eaten at a joyful family celebration and every third year, given for the benefit of the priest and the poor.

This actually makes a lot more sense if you know the history and culture of that region. People had been gathering at specified times of the year since at least 11,000 years ago (probably much longer) to give gifts, find spouses, and sing, eat, worship and dance. These get-togethers were no doubt joyous occasions, a combination of spring break and extended family reunion.

As time marched on and a king/priest lived at the temple/gathering place permanently, indigent people also went there and did weaving and other productive tasks. Surplus grain and other food was brought by the surrounding people to offer to their god(s) though it ultimately supported the king/priest and the poor. The Hebrew custom of gathering for festivals, bringing food and supporting the priest and the widows and orphans with a portion of it was a continuation of a very old custom.

That, of course, bears only a faint resemblance to bringing ten percent of your paycheck to a church every week. The amount of help churches provide to the indigent is also a faint shadow of the former custom as is the occasional potluck dinner. I think I like the old way better. I say “Party on.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s