The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 50: Tithes and Offerings
In the Hebrew economy one tenth of the income of the
people was set apart to support the public worship of God.
Thus Moses declared to Israel: "All the tithe of the land, whether
of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it
is holy unto the Lord." "And concerning the tithe of the herd,
or of the flock, . . . the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord."
Leviticus 27:30, 32.
But the tithing system did not originate with the Hebrews.
From the earliest times the Lord claimed a tithe as His, and this
claim was recognized and honored. Abraham paid tithes to
Melchizedek, the priest of the most high God. Genesis 14:20. Jacob,
when at Bethel, an exile and a wanderer, promised the Lord, "Of
all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto
Thee." Genesis 28:22. As the Israelites were about to be established
as a nation, the law of tithing was reaffirmed as one of the
divinely ordained statutes upon obedience to which their prosperity
The system of tithes and offerings was intended to impress the
minds of men with a great truth—that God is the source of every
blessing to His creatures, and that to Him man's gratitude is due
for the good gifts of His providence.
"He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." Acts 17:25.
The Lord declares, "Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the
cattle upon a thousand hills." Psalm 50:10. "The silver is Mine,
and the gold is Mine." Haggai 2:8. And it is God who gives men
power to get wealth. Deuteronomy 8:18. As an acknowledgment
that all things came from Him, the Lord directed that a portion
of His bounty should be returned to Him in gifts and offerings to
sustain His worship.
"The tithe . . . is the Lord's." Here the same form of expression
is employed as in the law of the Sabbath. "The seventh day
is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." Exodus 20:10. God reserved [p. 526] to Himself a specified portion of man's time and of his means,
and no man could, without guilt, appropriate either for his own
The tithe was to be exclusively devoted to the use of the
Levites, the tribe that had been set apart for the service of the
sanctuary. But this was by no means the limit of the contributions
for religious purposes. The tabernacle, as afterward the
temple, was erected wholly by freewill offerings; and to provide
for necessary repairs and other expenses, Moses directed that as
often as the people were numbered, each should contribute a
half shekel for "the service of the tabernacle." In the time of
Nehemiah a contribution was made yearly for this purpose. See
Exodus 30:12-16; 2 Kings 12:4, 5; 2 Chronicles 24:4-13; Nehemiah
10:32, 33. From time to time sin offerings and thank offerings
were brought to God. These were presented in great numbers
at the annual feasts. And the most liberal provision was made
for the poor.
Even before the tithe could be reserved there had been an
acknowledgment of the claims of God. The first that ripened of
every product of the land was consecrated to Him. The first of
the wool when the sheep were shorn, of the grain when the wheat
was threshed, the first of the oil and the wine, was set apart for
God. So also were the first-born of all animals; and a redemption
price was paid for the first-born son. The first fruits were to
be presented before the Lord at the sanctuary, and were then
devoted to the use of the priests.
Thus the people were constantly reminded that God was the
true proprietor of their fields, their flocks, and their herds; that
He sent them sunshine and rain for their seedtime and harvest,
and that everything they possessed was of His creation, and He
had made them stewards of His goods.
As the men of Israel, laden with the first fruits of field and
orchard and vineyard, gathered at the tabernacle, there was made
a public acknowledgment of God's goodness. When the priest
accepted the gift, the offerer, speaking as in the presence of
Jehovah, said, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father;" and
he described the sojourn in Egypt and the affliction from which
God had delivered Israel "with an outstretched arm, and with
great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders." And he
said, "He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this [p. 527] land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. And now,
behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which Thou,
Jehovah, hast given me." Deuteronomy 26:5, 8-11.
The contributions required of the Hebrews for religious and
charitable purposes amounted to fully one fourth of their income.
So heavy a tax upon the resources of the people might be
expected to reduce them to poverty; but, on the contrary, the faithful
observance of these regulations was one of the conditions of
their prosperity. On condition of their obedience God made them
this promise: "I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he
shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your
vine cast her fruit before the time in the field. . . . And all
nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land,
saith the Lord of hosts." Malachi 3:11.
A striking illustration of the results of selfishly withholding
even freewill offerings from the cause of God was given in the
days of the prophet Haggai. After their return from the captivity
in Babylon, the Jews undertook to rebuild the temple of the
Lord; but meeting determined opposition from their enemies,
they discontinued the work; and a severe drought, by which they
were reduced to actual want, convinced them that it was impossible
to complete the building of the temple. "The time is not
come," they said, "the time that the Lord's house should be built."
But a message was sent them by the Lord's prophet: "Is it time
for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie
waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your
ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have
not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe
you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth
wages to put it into a bag with holes." Haggai 1:2-6. And then
the reason is given: "Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to
little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why?
saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and
ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven
over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her
fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the
mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and
upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth,
and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the
hands." Verses 9-12. "When one came to a heap of twenty measures, [p. 528] there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to
draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty. I
smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the
labors of your hands." Haggai 2:16, 19.
Roused by these warnings, the people set themselves to build
the house of God. Then the word of the Lord came to them:
"Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and
twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the
foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, . . . from this day will
I bless you." Verses 18, 19.
Says the wise man, "There is that scattereth, and yet
increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it
tendeth to poverty." Proverbs 11:24. And the same lesson is
taught in the New Testament by the apostle Paul: "He which
soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth
bountifully shall reap also bountifully." "God is able to make all
grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency
in all things, may abound to every good work." 2 Corinthians
God intended that His people Israel should be light bearers
to all the inhabitants of the earth. In maintaining His public
worship they were bearing a testimony to the existence and
sovereignty of the living God. And this worship it was their
privilege to sustain, as an expression of their loyalty and their
love to Him. The Lord has ordained that the diffusion of light
and truth in the earth shall be dependent upon the efforts and
offerings of those who are partakers of the heavenly gift. He
might have made angels the ambassadors of His truth; He might
have made known His will, as He proclaimed the law from Sinai,
with His own voice; but in His infinite love and wisdom He
called men to become colaborers with Himself, by choosing them
to do this work.
In the days of Israel the tithe and freewill offerings were
needed to maintain the ordinances of divine service. Should the
people of God give less in this age? The principle laid down by
Christ is that our offerings to God should be in proportion to the
light and privileges enjoyed. "Unto whomsoever much is given,
of him shall be much required." Luke 12:48. Said the Saviour
to His disciples as He sent them forth, "Freely ye have received,
freely give." Matthew 10:8. As our blessings and privileges are [p. 529] increased—above all, as we have before us the unparalleled
sacrifice of the glorious Son of God—should not our gratitude
find expression in more abundant gifts to extend to others the
message of salvation? The work of the gospel, as it widens,
requires greater provision to sustain it than was called for anciently;
and this makes the law of tithes and offerings of even more
urgent necessity now than under the Hebrew economy. If His
people were liberally to sustain His cause by their voluntary
gifts, instead of resorting to unchristian and unhallowed methods
to fill the treasury, God would be honored, and many more souls
would be won to Christ.
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The plan of Moses to raise means for the building of the
tabernacle was highly successful. No urging was necessary. Nor
did he employ any of the devices to which churches in our day so
often resort. He made no grand feast. He did not invite the people
to scenes of gaiety, dancing, and general amusement; neither
did he institute lotteries, nor anything of this profane order, to
obtain means to erect the tabernacle for God. The Lord directed
Moses to invite the children of Israel to bring their offerings. He
was to accept gifts from everyone that gave willingly, from his
heart. And the offerings came in so great abundance that Moses
bade the people cease bringing, for they had supplied more than
could be used.
God has made men His stewards. The property which He
has placed in their hands is the means that He has provided for
the spread of the gospel. To those who prove themselves faithful
stewards He will commit greater trusts, Saith the Lord, "Them
that honor Me I will honor." 1 Samuel 2:30. "God loveth a cheerful
giver," and when His people, with grateful hearts, bring their
gifts and offerings to Him, "not grudgingly, or of necessity," His
blessing will attend them, as He has promised. "Bring ye all
the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine
house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I
will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out
a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
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"God's Care for the Poor"