Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

“Giving First to the Lord (Part 1)”

Categories: Author: Larry Coffey, Giving, Tithe

Giving First to the Lord (Part 1)

By Larry Coffey


My experience has been that the subject of giving is not discussed as much today as in the past. That may not be the case in all churches, but it seems preachers are more reluctant to preach on this subject. It may be because they do not want people to feel they are seeking more funds personally, or it may be because they know people are uncomfortable hearing this subject discussed. Surveys do show that the percent people gave of their income did decline in the last half of the 20th century. There are a number of issues involved in this subject that will be addressed in this article.

Ancient Giving

V. P. Black wrote a booklet entitled “My God and My Money” in 1964 in which he shows the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans gave 10% of their income. It appears their reasons for doing so was to avert or appease the divine anger, or to secure the divine favor. The question is why did they choose 10% rather than some other percent? It probably goes all the way back to the family of Adam. We read in Genesis 4:3-4, “And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat.  And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” 

While we don’t have a percent mentioned in Cain and Abel’s case, we do have 10% mentioned as early as Genesis 14:20 where Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he received when he rescued Lot from the five kings who had taken him captive. See also Hebrews 7:4, “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.”

Then we read concerning Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, that he made a vow to give a tenth back to God of all he received, Genesis 28:20-22, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my  father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set  as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’.”

Giving in the Jewish Age

We often hear the Jews were to tithe and thus we conclude they were to give 10% of their income. A closer look at the Law of Moses indicates the faithful Jew gave well more than 10%. They were to give to the poor and needy.

“When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:9-10)

“When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deut. 24:19-20)

We read of other annual giving requirements placed upon the children of Israel.  “You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The first-born of your sons you shall give to Me.” (Ex. 22:29)

“ that you set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every firstling that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s.” (Ex. 13:12)

From these verses we learn they were to give—

1. First of the fruits

2. First of the cattle

3. First born of their children—redeemed money payment (Num. 3:46-48).

Then there were freewill offerings where the amount was not specified such as the Feast of Weeks in Deut. 16:10-11, “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.”

Israel had three tithes, two annual and one every third year. The first tithe was for the priests and is recorded in Lev. 27:30-33, “And 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 to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it.  And concerning the tithe of the herd or the  flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.  He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

The second annual tithe recorded in Deut. 14:22-27 consisted of the yearly increase of the Lord. It was to be eaten by the offerer, his household and the Levite with the firstlings of the herd and the flock in the place the Lord would choose. This tithe might be converted into money at home to be expended at the place for sacrifice and feasting. It involved a stay of at least a week each at the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as a shorter period at the Feast of Weeks.

The third tithe required every three years is recorded in Deut. 14:28-29. One tenth of every third year’s increase was to be laid up at home and was to be shared by the local Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.

V. P. Black estimates that a devout Jew gave at least one third of his total earnings to God. This is far greater than the 10% we always hear about.