Tithing in the Wilderness and Canaan
Jonathan Kithcart

B. Childress
May 23 2011

Let us now look at how the tithing laws in the Bible evolved.  It will help us to understand better what the doctrine of the
tithe is all about.  Actually, the doctrine was developed over the forty years of the exodus period.  Its final development
came at the close of the exodus (the last month of the fortieth year).

In that final month, Moses brought the Israelites together to give them his final instructions.  He found it necessary to
make some adjustments on points of the law.  This was because the Israelites were leaving their nomadic existence and
entering  a civilized type of environment in the land of Canaan.  This prompted Moses to give an introduction to his law
in the book of the covenant that had been enacted at Mount Sinai.  The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy constitute
that new introduction.  This instruction was reckoned as a prologue to the whole law, which was made to allow the
Israelites to understand the changes that were being legislated by Moses.

These modifications involved a number of laws, and tithing was no exception.  The new environment in the land of
Canaan required some alterations in the way the tithe was to be gathered and utilized.  Since in the wilderness most
encamped close to the tabernacle, it was common for the people simply to deposit the tithe in the temple treasury as the
need arose.  After the rebellion of Korah (some twenty years after Israel left Egypt) Moses determined that the tithe was
then to be given exclusively to the Levites (Numbers 18:20-24).

This prompted Moses to authorize the forty-eight priestly cities scattered over the land as official sites where tithes
could be stored or to be paid in certain tithing years.  This ratio of Israelites to Levites convinced Moses that a new and
equitable tithe system for paying and distribution was needed once Israel inherited the land of Canaan.  He decided to
make a change in how the tithe was to be distributed and spent.  Moses commanded that the Israelites were no longer
to perform their tithing obligations in the manner they had observed in the wilderness.  "Ye shall not do after all the thing
we do here [within the wilderness] this day every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes" (Deuteronomy 12:8).  Moses
began to regulate the religious activities of the Israelites with more precision.  He made the laws more strict and with
greater detail for Israel's observance in the land of Canaan.

Notice the context of the last quote.  It is very important.  He said the Israelites  did "whatsoever is right in his own eyes"
(Deuteronomy 12:8).  Moses was talking about the payment of the tithe, burnt offerings, sacrifices, heave offerings,
vows, freewill offerings, firstlings of the herds and flocks (verse 6).  There were no laws regulating these matters.

Note that the law of firstlings (that is, the firstborn of the herds and flocks or the firstfruit of the harvest from farms) is a
very different set of laws than those of tithing.  They must not be confused as is sometimes done by preachers and
priests who want to be the first paid from one's income; they erroneously apply the word "first" regarding animals and
produce in this regard.  But the law of firstlings is not for Christians.  For firstlings see Numbers 3:12,13,40-45; 8:16-18
and for firstfruits see Leviticus 23:10-14; Numbers 18:12-28; Deuteronomy 18:4.  One must distinguish these laws of the
firstborn and firstfruits from the law of tithing.

While in the wilderness the Israelites gave to the Levites what little tithes, firstlings and firstfruits they had in any manner
they pleased.  At that time Moses said each Israelite had been able "to do whatsoever is right in his own eyes."  But
when they crossed into the land of Canaan, this unregulated manner for doing such things was to stop.  Once the
central sanctuary was established in the midst of Canaan, new regulations were ordained by Moses to come into play.  
"Ye shall not do after all things that we do here [in the wilderness]" (Deuteronomy 12:8).  These new directions were
also changes in the laws of tithing.  Once this fact is understood, we can realize the simple teachings about the full
doctrine of tithing as recorded in the biblical revelations.  They are very different from "Christian tithing" today.


DID THE APOSTLE PAUL TEACH TITHING TO THE CHURCH?, by Jonathan Kithcart, Copyright 2001, WinePress