People like to use this objection and point out that our modern economy is not agricultural like that of Israel’s…
I hope I’ve already made it clear in a previous article why you have to be more discerning about which Old Testament laws remain in force today. That way, you don’t make any large errors like theologians who annul the tithe by wiping away too much with a broad brush. One theologian expresses the objection this way:
4 – The tithe is tied to the land Israel received under the old covenant.
Israel was supposed to celebrate a tithe every three years in Jerusalem. But that requirement cannot apply to Christians today. It related to the Jews as a nation—to Jews who lived in the land of promise. With the coming of Christ, the Jewish nation is no longer the locus of God’s people, though individual Jews are part of the church through faith in Jesus.
The earthly Jerusalem is no longer central in God’s purposes (Gal. 4:25). Believers are part of the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26) and look forward to the city to come (Heb. 11:10), to the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1–22:5). Abraham isn’t heir of the land of Israel, but of the whole world (Rom. 4:13).
Let me be clear about something up front. The tithing system in the Old Covenant was complex. It really can be a challenge to understand. There are many different passages that must be studied, and they are made even more complicated by the fact that they can also mingle with the three annual worship festivals.
Generally, we can identify three Old Testament tithes. This old article from 1958 summarizes them:
For the benefit of those who have to answer questions of this nature I would like to present the Old Testament tithing system. It may be a consolation to those who find it hard to pay one tithe under our present system, to know that in Old Testament times there were actually three different kinds of tithe. Each one of these had a definite purpose, and although not all of them are enjoined upon the New Testament Christian, the study of the significance of each is highly recommended.
The three different types are as follows:
1 – The Levitical, or sacred tithe (Num. 18: 21, 24).
2 – The tithe of the feasts (Deut. 14:22-27).
3 – The tithe for the poor (Deut. 14:28, 29).
The third tithe, however, was not really a tithe to the poor. This is a common and traditional description because it was intended to go to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, but it is inaccurate:
The rabbinic assumption was that members of these four categories—widows, orphans, strangers, and Levites—would have been poor, but there is no reason to assume that Levites were poor…While any of these guests at the festival may have been poor, the criterion for being invited to the festival was not their poverty. Rather, it was their lack of judicial standing as citizens. They were not eligible to hold civil office in the local tribe. Thus, to call this third-year tithe a poor tithe is incorrect, although Jewish tradition so labels it. It had to do with the beneficiaries’ judicial status, not their economic status.Gary North, The Covenantal Tithe, page 76.
The third tithe is better described as a tithe of celebration.
Essentially, all three have been ended with the New Covenant, though aspects of them have been resurrected and transfigured along with Christ.
LAND AND SEED LAWS ANULLED
The author’s objection is true at some points, but his analysis is incomplete. This leads to an error in his conclusion.
The second and third tithes were land laws, associated with Israel’s landed inheritance of the Holy Land of Canaan. Israel’s claim to the landed inheritance of Canaan was annulled in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple at the hands of the Roman army. That moment in history spelled the definitive end of the Old Covenant era forever.
The third tithe was also a seed law, meaning it was associated with the tribes because the celebration was to be held in the local cities. The seed laws were all ended with the advent of Jesus, who fulfilled Jacob’s prophecy that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10). The Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah, while the Levites were to remain as the priests until that time. This is why laws existed to maintain tribal separation. When Jesus arrived, however, He would unite the priestly and the kingly together into a royal priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek.
Finally, we return to the first tithe, the Levitical tithe. It was given to the Levites as an inheritance. But with the change in the priesthood, the laws necessarily changed. The priesthood was transferred to God’s high priest, Jesus, who transformed the priesthood into a royal priesthood.
The Bible tells us that the tithe was given to the Levites “as their inheritance in return for the service that they provide in working at the tent of meeting” (Numbers 18:21). The land of Canaan was the inheritance of Israel, and a tithe of the produce of the ground, the increase of their crops and labors, was the Levites’ inheritance.
Canaan is no longer the Holy Land in the New Covenant era. Israel’s inheritance has been transferred to the church: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and will be given to a nation that produces its fruits” (Matthew 21:43). In the New Covenant, the fruits of our labors over time compound into an inheritance that we can pass on to our children, and our children’s children. Some of this inheritance is education, influence, and family name. But, especially in the modern world, one component of this inheritance is also financial:
The tithe is no longer exclusively agricultural. There is no holy land in Palestine. There are no family farms based on an original inheritance established by the military genocide of Canaan. Holy land now encompasses whatever is made holy— set apart—through ownership by Christians. That which we redeem—buy back—from the kingdom of mammon is made holy: set aside because it is under our lawful jurisdiction. This is our inheritance from God, and it is the inheritance that we leave behind to our heirs. God’s High Priest therefore de- serves His tithe on the net output of this inheritance. This is a matter of godly inheritance.Gary North, The Covenantal Tithe, page 105
Our high priest, Jesus Christ, has a legitimate claim on a tithe of the financial increase of His royal priesthood, a holy nation of priests in service to Him.
Everything we have is given to us by God. Our lives, our time, our talents.
The Bible tells us to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16), to buy it back. God gave the Holy Land to the Israelites as an inheritance. God possessed a claim on the top 10 percent of all that was produced with that gift.
In the New Covenant, the same principle applies. Just as God demanded an increase on the talents he gave the servants in the Parable of the Talents (Mat. 125:14-30), He demands an increase on the resources and capital He has entrusted to us. Ten percent of that increase belongs to Him. This goes all the way back to Melchizedek and Abram.
Everything that we do, all that we purchase and take legal claim over in our life, is bought back from the world, redeemed, and made holy. This is how God’s kingdom expands: His people steadily redeem what is under the domain of sin and the world for use in God’s kingdom.
Jesus Christ is God’s high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek established the principle of the tithe. Abraham paid a tithe of goods and possessions. This may have been agricultural in part, but certainly not entirely. They were the typical spoils of war, such as horses, gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, and so on.
The priesthood guards and serves the sacraments. This is why the tithe belongs to the priesthood. The lower priests tithe to the high priest.
The local church and its officers guard and serve the sacraments in the New Covenant as local representatives of the high priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus has a legal claim on 10 percent of the increase of the inheritance He has granted us. Our inheritance is not exclusively agricultural in the New Covenant as it was in the Old Covenant and for the Levites. But it is still an inheritance which is subject to the tithe, just in a different form.
In the modern world, our income reflects our labors and productivity. We can pass our wealth on to our children as an inheritance for them to build on.
Giving Jesus 10 percent of our income is a sign of obedience and subordination. He was clear: You cannot serve God and money (Mat. 6:24b). If you are not tithing to God, then you are claiming the tithe for yourself. Anyone who claims the tithe for themselves is robbing God.