The Old Covenant was a special system, set up for special purposes. The Old Covenant was set up for the people of Israel. Included in the covenant were various laws, ordinances, rituals, etc. The Levites were one of the twelve hereditary tribes of Israel. God set apart this tribe for special service to Him under this covenant (this happened after Israel's exodus from Egypt). In the book of Numbers, we find out about the special office and functions of the Levites. In order to properly understand the tithes (which I think a large majority of the church today doesn't understand), it's important to know about the Levites, because they were the recipients of the tithes! The duties of the Levites varied, and were divided up among all of the Levites. At different times the duties included guarding the sanctuary, moving the tent and carrying the parts from place to place, preparing the bread of the Presence, leading music during worship, slaughtering and skinning the animals for sacrifice, and a whole slew of other important duties. I'm intentionally being very brief here.
Important Information about the Levites
Something that's very important to note - and this is where we see the true purpose for the tithes - is that unlike the eleven other tribes, the Levites were given no territorial possessions or physical inheritance. Jehovah Himself was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20). Therefore, the way in which they were supported in return for their service to the Lord was through the receiving of the tithes of the produce and of the flocks and herds of the other tribes, as well as certain portions of the sacrificial offerings. Again we're now getting to the real meaning and purpose of the tithes. The Lord spoke about how the Levites would be taken care of through the various offerings of food, oil, wine, etc, that the people gave, and He speaks of the tithes:
Numbers 18:21, 24 "Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting... For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance..."Many Christians today, who at least have a little bit of an understanding that the tithes had something to do with the Levites, unfortunately take the liberty of equating the office of the Levites and the tabernacle in which they served with that of the modern day pastor and "church." Somewhere along the line they seem to forget the purpose of the Levites, or perhaps never really had a proper understanding in the first place. Take some time and read through all of Numbers 18 (and other passages that speak of the tithes and the functions of the Levites and the tabernacle). As you read about all of this, ask yourself if the comparison is anything close to being valid!
In Deuteronomy 12, the Lord was laying down "the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth." (Deut 12:1).
Included in this were instructions about many things, including the tithes:
Deut 12:5-7 "But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6 There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.What were they to do with all of this (the burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings, etc)? Were they to bring it to the "local church" so that God would "open up the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there wouldn't be enough room to receive it?" No! They were to eat it!
You think this is strange (according to what you've previously been taught about tithing)? Wait till we get to Deuteronomy 14!
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