the proportion of property devoted to religious uses from very early times. Instances of the use of tithes are found prior to the appointment of the Levitical tithes under the law. In biblical history the two prominent instances are--
- Abram presenting the tenth of all his property, or rather of the spoils of his victory, to Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2,6)
- Jacob, after his vision at Luz, devoting a tenth of all his property to God in case he should return home in safety (Genesis 28:22) The first enactment of the law in respect of tithe is the declaration that the tenth of all produce, as well as of flocks and cattle belongs to Jehovah and must be offered to him that the tithe was to be paid in kind, or, if redeemed, with an addition of one fifth to its value. (Leviticus 27:30-33) This tenth is ordered to be assigned to the Levites as the reward of their service, and it is ordered further that they are themselves to dedicate to the Lord a tenth of these receipts, which is to be devoted to the maintenance of the high priest. (Numbers 18:21-28) This legislation is modified or extended in the book of Deuteronomy, i.e. from thirty-eight to forty years later. Commands are given to the people--
- To bring their tithes, together with their votive and other offerings and first-fruits, to the chosen centre of worship, the metropolis, there to be eaten in festive celebration in company with their children their servants and the Levites. ( 12:5-18)
- All the produce of the soil was to be tithed every and these tithes with the firstlings of the flock and herd, were to be eaten in the metropolis.
- But in case of distance, permission is given to convert the produce into money, which is to be taken to the appointed place, and there laid out in the purchase of food for a festal celebration, in which the Levite is, by special command, to be included. ( 14:22-27)
- Then follows the direction that at the end of three years all the tithe of that year is to be gathered and laid up "within the gates" and that a festival is to be held of which the stranger, the fatherless and the widow together with the Levite, are to partake. Ibid. ( 5:28,29)
- Lastly it is ordered that after taking the tithe in each third year, "which is the year of tithing," an exculpatory declaration is to be made by every Israelite that he has done his best to fulfill the divine command, ( 26:12-14) From all this we gather-- (1) That one tenth of the whole produce of the soil was to be assigned for the maintenance of the Levites. (2) That out of this the Levites were to dedicate a tenth to God for the use of the high priest. (3) That a tithe, in all probability a second tithe, was to be applied to festival purposes. (4) That in every third year, either this festival tithe or a third tenth was to be eaten in company with the poor and the Levites. (These tithes in early times took the place of our modern taxes, us well as of gifts for the support of religious institutions. --ED.)