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Twenty-Ninth (To God the Things that are God's)

I hope your week went well! I can tell you that I've been feeling a sense of pressure building. Don't know what it means, so I'll have to wait and see! This week is a potential hot topic, so my usual disclaimer is in order. I want to reiterate that I am not writing to "convince" you of anything. I am not writing to say anyone is wrong. I am sharing my thoughts and beliefs from what I've studied, and hopefully providing even just a little something to think about. In the vein of this newsletter, I consider it an accomplishment if I either 1) cause you to take a moment to think, 2) cause you to reinforce your beliefs by studying scripture, or 3) just get you to crack open the Bible (or read it on the web :)! Anything more than that, and I'm ecstatic!

Well lets get down to it, then! We'll start with the verse that holds the title of this newsletter: Matthew 22:21. In verses 15-22, the Pharisees were sending their disciples along with the Herodians to trip up Jesus. Herodians were a group of Jews that promoted submission to King Herod. These two groups went to Jesus to ask about paying taxes (tributes) and whether it follows the law of Yehovah. Long story short, Jesus responded by pointing out the picture on a coin and saying you should give Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's.

I think it's important to point out two things here. First, Jesus made a point to show that taxes should be paid as required. This makes sense because we can see many other passages that tell us God is the one that appoints kings (or presidents) (Daniel 2:21, 36, Daniel 4:17, 25, 32, Daniel 5:21, John 19:10-11, Romans 13:1). So, we follow the laws (including tax laws) given by them. With one caveat: it doesn't go against His law. That caveat is evident with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow to a golden statue (Daniel 3:12), Daniel continuing to pray despite a decree (Daniel 6:10), etc. Second, money is not God's. In Jesus' case, it was Caesar's. In our case, it's the government's.

Now let's go back in time. Specifically, let's go back to Genesis 14, the first mention of a tithe (Genesis 14:20). In this situation, Abram brought a tithe based on the victory given to him by Yehovah in battle. The word in Hebrew for tithe is ma'aser and means tenth, so that's how we get to giving a tenth as a tithe. In this case, Melchizedek, the priest Abram was giving the tithe to, told him just give the people and take all the possessions for yourself. Melchizedek, by the way, is the order of priests Jesus is associated with (Hebrews 5:8-10), so he's definitely a model priest, knowing right and wrong and requirements from God. So, we see a tithe is given as a result of something Yehovah has given us, but in this case not of the goods/possessions that were acquired.

If you take a look at a majority of the references to the word ma'aser you'll find they talk about animals, crops, wine and oil. Moving forward to Numbers we can see where the tithe went: to the Levites (Numbers 18:24). They were given this based on their service to Yehovah in the tabernacle. What did they do with it? After they give the best tenth of it to the priest (Numbers 18:26), they eat it (Numbers 18:31). In this way, since the Levites' sole job was to serve in the tabernacle, and not grow crops or tend flock, they were sustained.

But there's more. When there is an increase in the yield of a crop, you tithe that, too (Deuteronomy 14:22). Obviously, because any increase has been given by Yehovah. But the next verse is very interesting. For some context, at this point in Israelite history they had crossed into Canaan. They were promised this land, and God told them to destroy all altars, pillars and groves, the places where the Canaanites worshiped their gods. They were also told of places Yehovah chose to put His name (Deuteronomy 12). It was in these places they were told to take their tithe...and eat it and praise Him (Deuteronomy 14:23). In fact, if their current location was too far away from one of the designated places, they turned it into money, brought it to the designated place, and bought whatever they wanted to eat or drink. Literally, whatever their "soul lusteth after," and they ate that (Deuteronomy 14:25, 26). They were also to give it to the Levites, strangers, orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 14:29).

Jumping ahead again, to the New Testament, the majority of places where tithing is mentioned is in reference to the Pharisees. Either referencing their inappropriate focus on it rather than more important things, or boasting about it in prayer (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12). And the only other mention in the New Testament is in reference to the Levites receiving tithes, as I discussed earlier (Hebrews 7).

So we've learned so far that tithing was required by Yehovah to 1) provide for the Levites who were dedicated to service to Him, 2) be eaten in His presence in celebration, and 3) to be given to those in need. In every verse, it references food products, and Jesus stated that money is in fact Caesar's, not God's. So what is the thing done in churches these days? It doesn't fall under the category of tithe, according to scripture.

To figure that out, we must look to history. But let's start with the apostles. Paul was given a contribution from those of Macedonia and Achaia to give to poor believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25, 26). Something given freely, as it pleased them, to be taken to people they knew needed it. He also ordered a specific collection for them from the churches of Galatia and Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:1). Not a tithe in either case. A collection for a specific purpose.

In fact, the early church didn't tithe at all. The apostles met at houses of believers as they traveled, on the day after Sabbath, to have fellowship. They were given food and a place to stay, and things the believers there freely gave as they were moved. The requirement of monetary "tithing" didn't start until the 8th century. Before that, ministers were simply given a place to stay and a piece of land. Then, it was land and produce until it became monetary. These monetary tithes were actually required by the law of the land, and later on became requirements of church.

Now don't get me wrong. If you belong to a church and you feel moved to give to it, by all means do it. But based on my study it is not a tithe, and should not be projected as such. It is a gift, freely given by you as you choose. To make it a requirement, in my opinion, suggests a lack of trust in Him. If His will is being done, He will provide for it, just as He provides food for the fowls of the air (Matthew 6:26). You just need to listen to the Holy Spirit to figure out if it's from Him.

Shabbat Shalom and God bless you!

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