The Levitical Command to Tithe
You will find the actual command for the first of the 2 categories of tithes in Leviticus chapter 27. But first I think we should get a little background. In Numbers chapter 18 we are told that the reason for the tithe in Leviticus is that the Levites did not get an inheritance of land. This means that the Levites had no way to feed or clothe themselves. So let's start with Joshua chapter 18.
Click here to read Jos 18 ------------- Click here to listen to Jos 18
So now we know that the Levites inherited the priesthood instead of land. This may be why some denominations believe that priest should not own property. I do not know if that is a valid assumption or not but we do know that the Levites were the only people that God ordained as priest at the time the law was written and they did not get an inheritance of land.
The actual command to tithe is in Lev 27:30-33 and is very specific. A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord. Also every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod —will be holy to the Lord. This is not the same definition of a tithe that you will get from most pastors. Pastors will tell you that the command to tithe says to give a tenth of all your income. Some will say all your increases including your income. I have heard pastors teach that re-writing this piece of scripture is justified because they didn't have money in those days. I have a problem with this because if you actually read Leviticus 27 you will see that at the very least they were weighing silver and using that as currency. Every time money is mentioned there seems to be a 20% penalty for using it.
Click here to read Lev 27 ------------- Click here to listen to Lev 27
Redeeming a Tithe
We see when we read the command we see that God has defined the tithe as both a tenth of the vegetation that is grown and a tenth of the livestock that is raised. We also see that the livestock can not be redeemed. The command does however give a provision for redeeming part or all of the vegetation. This is done by paying for it with silver and adding a 20% (one fifth) penalty for doing so. Yes, that is right. The command to tithe in the bible says that there is a 20% penalty for tithing money.
What does it mean to redeem your tithe? Redeem simply means to take back. So why would a farmer need to take back food when he can just go out to the farm storage and get more? The best explanation I could come up with was to figure out where all the food went. What I came up with was there are 3 places a farmer's product goes after it is produced. 1) Tithe. 2) Feed his family. 3) Sell the product in order to provide things for his family that he does not produce.
If the farmer sells too much of his product so that after his tithe he would not have enough left over to feed his family, he may need to buy some food from somewhere. If he can't find it anywhere else the farmer can go to the levites and pay the 20% penalty. This probably would not happen if the farmer just tithed first and then sold what was left over after his family was provided for.
Key Points to Remember
- The Levites inherited the priesthood instead of land.
- God defines a tithe as fruits of the land and not money.
- God instituted a 20% penalty for tithing money.