What is the tithe all about and should we follow it today?
There were three tithes on the profit of each year’s increase to be given by the people of Israel
1. The tithe which was given to the Levites to provide religious services, instruction, medical help, and care for the poor.
" For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel." (Number 18:24 ESV)
2. The rejoicing tithe which was to be taken for a time of celebration before the LORD and a giving of thanks.
"You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire--oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household." (Deuteronomy 14:22-26 ESV)
3. The poor tithe was paid every three years as an additional tithe was given to help those in financial need.
"At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 ESV)
In addition to the tithe was the civil government tax. The maximum tax of the government was to be 10% once the people had an earthly king instead of only having God as their king.
"The Prophet Samuel said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. " (1Sa 8:11-17 ESV)
The idea of a tenth existed before Moses.
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 14:18-20 ESV)
Those who were poor did not have to pay the tithe since it was on the profit that one gained from their agricultural family businesses. The poor received help from the tithe and did not pay the tithe. This “income tax” was the “kingdom tax” and was a way of honoring God as the real King of Israel. One of these tithes was a call to have funds to be used for godly entertainment and celebration to remember the joy that God allows us to have even when we live “East of Eden”. Every three year the tithe increased to 20% with 10% for the care of the poor.
Christians have held two positions concerning the tithe
1. The tithe was only an “Old Testament” practice and Christians now may give as they are led by the Holy Spirit.
2. The tithe should be paid by Christians because the Messiah Jesus recommended it as a normal practice. They see continuity here instead of a discontinuity.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23 ESV)
For those holding to the tithe there are several ways of calculating it.
A. A simple 10% of gross income on poor and rich alike
B. 10% after taxes on poor and rich alike
C. 10% of the profit people have after subtracting the least amount they could live on. This would reflect the “profit” of a small business owner in Israel before the coming of Messiah/Christ Jesus. This means that the poor would not owe a tithe and only when income was greater than the true necessities of life would a “kingdom tax” be owed. Such calculations need to be done carefully as not to fail to pay a full tithe when owed to avoid robbing God the KING. However, the good eternal KING would never want the poor oppressed by any tax most especially HIS tax.
The poor or others can always pay more than the minimal tithe in “free will offerings” such as the widow’s mite.
"And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)
I personally believe the tithe should be paid as in the time before Christ and calculated according to the profit a person makes after their necessary expenses have been deducted. I do not believe that God taxes the poor.
A good book on tithing is Tithing and Dominion by Rushdoony.