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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Tithes

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We have nothing more ancient concerning tithes, than what we find in Genesis 14:20 , that Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, king of Salem, at his return from his expedition against Chedorlaomer, and the four kings in confederacy with him. Abraham gave him tithe of all the booty he had taken from the enemy. Jacob imitated this piety of his grandfather, when he vowed to the Lord the tithe of all the substance he might acquire in Mesopotamia, Genesis 28:22 . Under the law, Moses ordained, "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 if a man will at all redeem aught of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord," Leviticus 27:30-32 . The Pharisees, in the time of Jesus Christ, to distinguish themselves by a more scrupulous observance of the law, did not content themselves with paying the tithe of the grain and fruits growing in the fields; but they also paid tithe of the pulse and herbs growing in their gardens, which was more than the law required of them. The tithes were taken from what remained, after the offerings and first fruits were paid. They brought the tithes to the Levites in the city of Jerusalem, as appears from Josephus and Tob_1:6 . The Levites set apart the tenth part of their tithes for the priest; because the priest did not receive them immediately from the people, and the Levites were not to meddle with the tithes they had received, before they had given the priests such a part as the law assigned them. Of those nine parts that remained to the proprietors, after the tithe was paid to the Levites, they took still another tenth part, which was either sent to Jerusalem in kind, or, if it was too far, they sent the value in money; adding to it a fifth from the whole as the rabbins inform us. This tenth part was applied toward celebrating the festivals in the temple, which bore a near resemblance to the agapae, or love feasts of the first Christians. Thus are those words of Deuteronomy understood by the rabbins: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thy oil, and of the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks: that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always,"

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 . Tob_1:6 , says, that every three years he punctually paid his tithe to strangers and proselytes. This was probably because there were neither priests nor Levites in the city where he dwelt. Moses speaks of this last kind of tithe: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest,"

Deuteronomy 14:28 ; Deuteronomy 26:12 . It is thought that this tithe was not different from the second kind before noticed, except that in the third year it was not brought to the temple, but was used upon the spot by every one in the city of his habitation. So, properly speaking, there were only two sorts of tithes, that which was given to the Levites and priests, and that which was applied to making feasts of charity, either in the temple of Jerusalem, or in other cities. Samuel tells the children of Israel, that the king they had a mind to have over them would "take the tenth of their seed, and of their vineyards, and give to his officers, and his servants. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants," 1 Samuel 8:15 ; 1 Samuel 8:17 . Yet it does not clearly appear from the history of the Jews, that they regularly paid any tithe to their princes. But the manner in which Samuel expresses himself, seems to insinuate that it was looked upon as a common right among the kings of the east. At this day, the Jews no longer pay any tithe; at least they do not think themselves obliged to do it, except it be those who are settled in the territory of Jerusalem, and the ancient Judea. For there are few Jews now that have any lands of their own, or any flocks. They only give something for the redemption of the first-born, to those who have any proofs of their being descended from the race of the priests or Levites. However, we are assured, that such among the Jews as would be thought to be very strict and religious give the tenth part of their whole income to the poor.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Tithes'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/t/tithes.html. 1831-2.

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