ISRAEL'S THREE TITHES?
In chapter three of THE TITHE IN SCRIPTURE, Henry Lansdell
goes into quite some detail expounding the arguments for and
against the practice of three tithes in ancient Israel.
At the end of his chapter he gives the HISTORICAL sources we
have left us today that support the three tithes of Israel. We
have the book of TOBIT (1. 6-8) found in what is known as the
Apocrypha, which can be seen in some Roman Catholic Bibles. There
is the witness of the Jewish Pharisee Historian,
Josephus(Josephus Antiquities, book 4), who lived in the first
century A.D. There is the testimony of Jerome, who lived in
Palestine. And there is the witness of Chrysostom. And around
the 10th/11th century A.D. there is the witness of the Rabbi Aben
So, from about the 3rd century B.C. to the 11th century A.D.
we have a number of prominent witnesses that three tithes were
paid in Israel.
Yet, the proof of this fact does not lie, nor should it lie,
in various "histories." Can we go to the word of the Lord and
prove there was MORE than ONE tithe given to the people of Israel
In the investigation of the Scriptures we are about to
undertake, please remember, I am NOT STATING ANYTHING about
whether the members of the Church of God should TODAY be
observing THREE tithes. That is another matter entirely. The
only purpose for this study is to ascertain as to whether Old
Testament Israel practiced under their economy, and were
instructed by God , under that covenant, to give three tithes as
a duty of their religious worship towards Him.
Let us begin.
GOD'S TITHE IN ISRAEL
The first passage we need to read is Leviticus 27:30-33.
From this passage we learn:
1) That a tenth of the produce of the land, whether of seed
or fruit, was CLAIMED by God, and was to be regarded as holy (or
set apart) for HIM.
2) That if the offerer wished to retain this tenth of seed
or fruit, he might do so by PAYING its value, and adding thereto
one-fifth. So a tithe could be given as MONEY to God and not just
as physical agriculture produce.
3) That every tenth calf and lamb also (that is, increase of
the heard or flock) was to be set apart for God.
4) That this form of animal tithe MIGHT NOT BE redeemed, nor
the animal EXCHANGED: but if an owner, notwithstanding, presumed
to CHANGE a tithe animal, than BOTH the tithe animal and that for
which it was exchanged were to be FORFEITED, and set apart FOR
What needs to be NOTED and MARKED is THIS TITHE, "all the
tithe" not just PART OF this tithe was THE LORD'S. This tithe,
ALL OF IT, belonged to God. It did not belong to the person
giving the tithe for him to do with it, or part of it, what he
desired, and to whom he desired to give it, whether to the widow,
the fatherless, the poor, the stranger etc. This tithe is most
CLEARLY said to BELONG TO GOD!
Now with THAT POINT understood, as God had said this tithe
WAS HIS, that it belonged to HIM, then of course the Lord Himself
could DECLARE in specific ways HOW THIS TITHE was to be USED.
THIS He did tell Israel, as we see in Numbers 18:21-24.
Please now read this section of scripture carefully.
Hence this first, or Lord's tithe, is known also as the
Levites' tithe, concerning which it may be convenient here to
1) From this tithing no produce of land, or increase of herd
or flock is expected.
2) That the offerer had no voice in the disposal.
3) That though it was called a heave offering, the offerer
did not receive any of it back again.
4) That this tithe was not an amount that might be
diminished, or an alms that the owner might render or not as he
pleased, but a divine claim, the withholding of which was
regarded by God as dishonesty(Mal.3:8).
It may further be noted concerning this tithe to God and now
given to the Levite, by God, that the Levites were required by
Him to render a tenth of what they received as a heave offering
to the Lord, and to pay it to Aaron the priest - see numbers
Those are the basic passages concerning THE tithe, ALL the
tithe. That was to go to God, who in turn said it was to be paid
to the Levites, who also in turn were to give a tenth of that
tithe to Aaron the high priest.
We now proceed to another passage of scripture that talks
about a tithe. It is found in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. Again, I
ask you to read it carefully.
Concerning this tithe we can learn:
1) That it consisted of the yearly increase of the land.
2) That it was to be EATEN by the OFFERER, his household,
and the Levite, with firstlings of herd, and flock, BUT ONLY at
the APPOINTED place of worship.
3) The object of this was that Israel might always fear the
4) This tithe might be converted at home into MONEY, to be
expended at the capital for sacrifices and feasting.
5) It was after converted to money, still tithe. So tithe
could be either agricultural produce or money.
6) The tithe payer was to EAT, DRINK, and rejoice before God
with this tithe.
7) This tithe was to be SHARED among the HOUSEHOLD of the
tithe payer and with the Levite who had no land inheritance in
The due payment of this tithe involved a stay of at least a
week each at Passover/Unleavened Bread and Feast of Tabernacles,
as well as a shorter period at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.
These three Festival periods in the calendar of Israel became
known as the three PILGRIM festivals. This tithe could be used
for and at all three festival periods.
Here I will quote from THE TITHE IN SCRIPTURE, pages 27-29.
"It will help us better understand this.....festival tithe,
as it is sometimes called, if we consider the end it was to
serve. All the males in Israel (with their families, if they
chose) were to assemble at the sanctuary three times a year for
the worship of God (Deut.12:6-7).........The primary end,
therefore, of the festivals was to foster religious principles
and to furnish a time and place for social observances and the
OFFERING of SACRIFICES, all being done in recognition of God's
bounty, and as acts of fealty and worship to Him.........So if an
Israelite sinned, his appointed way to forgiveness was by
SACRIFICE; and if he had vows to redeem, or thanksgiving to make,
all involved the PRESENTATION OF SACRIFICE. But this and other
sacrifices were not to be offered in just ANY PLACE the
worshipper chose(Deut.12:17-18), but MUST BE TAKEN TO THE
ECCLESIASTICAL CAPITAL, such as was afterwards established at the
resting places of the Ark as in Shiloh, and in Jerusalem.
Speaking generally, the Jewish sacrifice partook more or
less of the nature of EXPIATION (for sin committed), of
dedication (when seeking a favor), or of thanksgiving
(for favor received); and according to the intention of the
offerer was the kind of sacrifice presented.........
Thus the Israelite would have the OPPORTUNITY OF EATING AND
REJOICING BEFORE GOD, AND FEASTING WITH HIS HOUSEHOLD; AND
THE....FESTIVAL TITHE, WAS INTENDED TO FURNISH THE MEANS FOR
DOING THIS......" (emphasis mine).
Ah, did you get the gem of truth present here by
Dr.Lansdell? There was a great DUAL purpose in the observing of
the three Festival periods in the calendar of Israel.
They were to be PILGRIM festivals to be observed ONLY where God
has placed His name, which finally became Jerusalem. Yes, they
were to be times of worshipping God and learning to fear the
Eternal, times of eating, drinking, and rejoicing before God with
the whole family, with the widows, the fatherless, the poor, the
stranger, and the Levite of the land. Yet, they had a VERY
IMPORTANT OTHER function also.
As SACRIFICING for the above mentioned reasons by Lansdell,
were also a VERY SACRED RITE to be performed in Israel by the
people, and as those sacrifices were also to be performed at the
place where God would place His name, the same location as to
where to observe the Festivals, so it was that the three pilgrim
feasts served another role in the yearly worship of the Lord.
The saving of a FESTIVAL TITHE would not only secure the means to
attend the feasts of God in Jerusalem, BUT also guarantee that
the people would come to Jerusalem and offer their SACRIFICES to
the Lord as prescribed by the laws of Moses under the Old
Are you meditating on what we have learned, and from what is
clearly written about these TWO tithes so far mentioned from the
scriptures of the books of Moses?
As Lansdell has written in his book, pages 29, 30, "......if
the FIRST and SECOND tithes be COMPARED, it will be seen, by way
of DISTINCTION, that whereas the offerer had NO VOICE WHATEVER in
the DISPOSAL of the first tithe, the DISPOSAL of the second tithe
was largely in HIS OWN HANDS; and that whereas the offerer DID
NOT receive again ANY portion for HIMSELF of the first tithe, he
might receive in some cases the GREATER PART of the second tithe
for his OWN USE, or purposes, as well as for the enjoyment of
OTHERS" (emphasis mine).
I think it should be VERY CLEAR to those who have no axe to
grind, or position to uphold, but are wanting to see what the
word really teaches. The tithe to God was to God, ALL of it, it
ALL belonged to the Lord. It was HIS and no part of it BELONGED
TO THE OFFERER! God in turn then said He would give it to the
Levite, all of it, which no part came back to the offerer in any
way, shape or form. The Levite was to also give a tenth of that
tithe to Aaron.
The tithe for the Festival observance was in the hands of
the tither. It was clearly FOR HIM, belonging to him, and for him
to EAT and DRINK. It was for his household, and for the Levite
who had no inheritance in Israel. It was to be used at the three
pilgrim Festival sites where God would place His name.
The clear instructions from the Lord as to the use and
purpose of these two tithes can only lead to the conclusion that
there were at LEAST TWO tithes in Israel of old. Any other
conclusion would be contradictory and illogical, not to say
confusing to the tither.
We must yet look at another passage that speaks about
tithing. It is found in Deuteronomy 14:28-29. Again, I ask the
reader to study it carefully.
This seems to teach that:
1) A tenth of every third year's increase was to be laid up
2) This tenth was to be shared by the local Levite, the
stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
3) The object of this tithe was, that God might bless the
work of the tithe-payer's hands.
It should be obvious from what we have seen from our study
of the first tithe and the festival tithe, that this tithe is yet
again DIFFERENT! Nowhere is anything stated within the context
of the tithe to God or the festival tithe, about YEARS,
specifically every THIRD year. It is not the purpose in this
study to argue about whether this was every third year of a seven
year cycle(meaning the third and sixth years within every seven
years, or the third only of every seven years), as that point has
no bearing directly on the subject under our present discussion.
This tithe is connected with a year. We have seen that the
tithe to God was HIS TITHE, ALL OF IT. We have seen that the
Festival tithe was left in the hands of the tither, and it was
for his HOUSEHOLD and the Levite at the feast site.
Here we have a tithe that is not only within a specific
year, but it is to be LAID UP in the gates of the tither, to be
used within the home living of the tither, which the other
two tithes were not. It is specifically stated FOR WHOM this
tithe was to be for, to be given to. You will notice NOTHING is
said that it was for the one giving the tithe, NOR for HIS
immediate HOUSEHOLD, as was the festival tithe.
This third year tithe is specially for the following
persons: The Levite, the Stranger, the Fatherless, the Widow.
They were to come and EAT this tithe. It was similar in many
ways to the USA "food stamps" of today. It was for physical food
stuffs for the needy and for the poor of the land.
I will quote again from the book THE TITHE IN SCRIPTURE to
answer other arguments put forth, pages 30-32.
" Some think this was not a third tithe, but a triennial
substitute for the second tithe, so that in the third, and again
in the sixth, years (as well as the seventh year, when the
land was not to be cultivated), the Israelite would not take the
second, or festival, tithe to the sanctuary, but would dispose of
it among the poor at home........
On the other hand, as opposed to these conjectures, it may
That the Hebrew text NOWHERE says explicitly that the third
tithe should be substituted for the second.
The injunction is several times repeated that every male
should go up to the festivals yearly; but neither the third,
sixth, seventh, or any other year is EXCEPTED (Some.....have
supposed that, as the land was not to be sown in the seventh
year, no tithe would be paid........But if so, how were the
Levites during that year to live, unless a double or treble tithe
was to be paid in the sixth year? And this the law had already
provided for. 'If ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh
year? behold we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase. Then I
will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall
bring forth fruit for three years' Lev.25:20-22).
Besides, not going up to the festivals on the third, sixth,
and seventh years would be attended with further and practical
difficulty: for if a man had sinned after returning say, from the
last feast of the fifth year, he would, under normal
circumstances, be deprived of the opportunity of offering a
sacrifice of expiation at the sanctuary until after an interval
of two years........"
Ah, yes, some sound reasoning and logic on the part of
The Feasts of the Lord were to be observed in the place
where God had chosen EVERY YEAR, with no stipulation that just
because the land was at rest that festival observing also took a
rest. The Temple and its Priesthood with daily sacrificing, was
to continue in Israel EVERY DAY of the week, every week of the
year, without resting. The Levite was to be fed from the tithes
brought, as was the High priest from the tithe of those tithes,
every week of every year, without stopping.
And so it was indeed possible, for those God gave
instruction for the LAND to rest every seventh year and in the
Jubilee or 50th year, the animals of the herds and flocks did not
rest. They still produced, so an increase of tithing was still in
force for that production, and the Levite and high priest
obtained their food, for the service that they never ceased to
perform at any time, in any year.
Also, as this was God's nation, under His laws and divine
watchfulness. The tithing law NEVER REALLY ceased at any time,
for even when certain parts of the economy rested(as the land at
times, so no tithing from the land in that particular year) God
would BLESS the LAND in the sixth year, so there would be double
or triple the increase, and so double or triple the tithe, to
carry them over until the land was once again in production.
What a time in history to have lived in. A nation under God,
a nation that could truly, with sincerity have said "In God we
Trust." For that nation of Israel who would truly serve and obey
the Eternal God of heaven, for them they would have seen the
MIGHTY HAND OF THE LORD BLESSING THEM IN EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE,
and their land flowing over, especially in the sixth year, with
ABUNDANCE of agriculture and flocks that would have been the envy
of all other nations around about them.
Truly all this would have brought to pass the verses of
" Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as
the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land
whither you go to posses it. Keep therefore and do them; for this
is your wisdom and understanding in the SIGHT of the nations,
which shall hear of these statutes, and say, Surely this GREAT
NATION is a WISE and UNDERSTANDING people. For what nation is
there so great, who has God SO NIGH unto them......And what
nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so
RIGHTEOUS as all this law, which I set before you this day."
From the Scriptures of the Word of the Lord that we have
studied, and from the recorded histories we have preserved, it
should be plain to see that ancient Israel under the Old
Covenant, did have and did practice the observance of THREE
This is how it was so ordained in ancient Israel for their
time and their economy. Does this mean THREE tithes are to be
employed and observed for the Christian TODAY under the New
Covenant and our economy.
I have written numerous times over the last 18 years that
the THIRD, or POOR TITHE, was Israel's welfare program. This
tithe today is BEING employed by most nations of the world in the
form of regular TAXATION. All tax paying peoples are supporting
and paying a third tithe(many estimate a lot more) through their
taxes to their government.
This third tithe should NOT BE paid to any church
organization, nor should any church require their members to pay
a third tithe to them.
Yet, in saying this, I must point out that the NT does
clearly teach that we as Christians do have a responsibility to
serve and help in physical ways, our brothers and sisters in the
church, and even in the community, if we are in the physical
position, to so serve and help. This is going the extra mile,
going above and beyond the call of duty, which Jesus plainly
taught we must do, if we are to be His followers.
AS for the second tithe. This is another area that most
today in the festival observing churches of God, do not fully
understand. I will cover that topic at another time in another
Our study of the first tithe is still in progress. I must
look at the NT on this subject, and in so doing I will explain to
you WHY there is no direct command from the apostles or the
writers of the NT, about tithing to them or the church of God,
outside the seventh chapter of Hebrews.
But that is for next time.
Written May 1997