Again, we find absolutely no instructions saying "you shall tithe on the following items." Rather, the only indication in this chapter that tithe was to be received in the form of food comes in verse 31:
Numbers 18:30-31Anti-tithers claim that this passage proves that the tithe was only on food since the tithe was "accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress." They argue that the reference to the threshing floor and the winepress (i.e. the production of grain and wine) clearly indicates that the Levites received only food products as tithe. I have two issues with this interpretation of these verses:
Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting.
- There is no analogous statement for the tithe of other specifically commanded products, such as animals or fruit trees. As a result, this passage cannot be construed as a guide for what to tithe on, nor does the context dictate that it should be taken that way, as I will later explain.
- Taking this as a guide for what to tithe on would actually lead one to tithe on finished products - grain and wine - rather than the raw harvest - wheat and grapes. This opens the door for arguments about tithing on labor rather than just the produce. I described such arguments concerning wine and oil in detail in the linked article, and these arguments extend logically to the act of threshing wheat into grain. Anti-tithers reject these arguments on the premise that such finished products were not part of the tithe given to the Levites. Instead, they claim that wine and oil are mentioned only as part of the second tithe; but that stance contradicts their view of this verse since the "produce of the winepress" would refer directly to wine.
For an overview, the relevant part of Numbers 18 breaks down as follows:
- Verses 21-24: God declares that a tithe will be given from the children of Israel to the Levites in exchange for their services in the Temple as an inheritance, as I've examined previously in detail.
- Verses 25-27: God commands that the Levites regard their tithe as though they had earned it themselves, as I explained above.
- Verse 28: Because the tithe is reckoned to them as though they had earned it, then they should in turn give a tenth of what they received (sometimes referred to as a "tithe of the tithe") to the priests.
- Verse 29: Stipulates that the part given by the Levites as the "tithe of the tithe" to the priests must be the best part of what the Levites were given from the tithes of the rest of Israel.
- Verses 30-31: Reiterates that the portion given to the Levite, after the Levite had taken out a tithe of it for the priest, belonged to the Levites as though they had worked for it themselves - therefore, they were free to use it as they pleased.
- Verse 32: States again that the Levite would not incur sin by how they consumed the tithe, but warns them against profaning the "holy gifts of the children of Israel."
The focus here is not at any point to give individual instructions on how to tithe or what to tithe on. The context of the statement that the tithe belonged to the Levite "as the produce of the threshing floor and the produce of the winepress" is most logically understood in the sense of "the tithe is yours as though you had labored for it yourself." This continues to drive home my prior point that the tithe was not merely for the Levites' inheritance, but also the product of their labor for the Tabernacle/Temple.