Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Did the Levites Work for Peanuts?

I've dedicated a lot of time and effort to the subject of tithing, so some of what I say here might require some legwork on the part of the reader. I've conveniently compiled my series on tithing as a reference. It explains about a particularly outspoken group of people who teach that tithing is not valid for Christians today. They challenge the premise of tithing from every angle, and so I've worked diligently to defend it from every angle. One of their claims is that the command to tithe was limited to agricultural products - the offspring of the herds and the yield of the crops - and that it was never paid by wage-earners such as Jesus, who was a carpenter. I've answered this argument before (you can read about it on the tithing page), and this post is just some more thoughts on the matter.

The tithes of Israel were allocated to the Levites as an inheritance and in exchange for their service in the temple:
Numbers 18:21
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.
The reasons for which the Levites received tithes play a role in the discussion of whether tithe was limited to agricultural products only. As the above scripture shows, they received tithe for two purposes: as an inheritance and in return for the work of the Tabernacle. If tithe was only required on food items as some claim, then this would mean that the Levites were both given an inheritance and paid for their work in food.

What inheritance it is talking about, anyway? The inheritance of the other tribes was the land allocated to each family; therefore, receiving the benefit of the land that they would have had makes sense. That's how tithes counted as their inheritance since they would have grown crops and tended herds on their land if they had any. 

On the other hand, they were also given tithes as compensation for their work. Anti-tithers are correct in arguing that the economy of the time was not agrarian (i.e., using food as money). In fact, the law states that a person redeem the tithe portion of their crops and give money instead:
Leviticus 27:30-31
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it
This fact alone does not prove that tithe was given on a person's monetary income, but it does prove that the Levites must have at least had a system in place for receiving tithes in the form of money - even if only as a result of redemption. The tithing system could not have been merely a food redistribution program for the Levites and the poor! It must have been a more robust system than that, dealing also with money.

But back to the point. Surely the Levites received food as an inheritance to replace the land that they were not given. However, did the Levites receive food as payment for their work? I submit that the Levites did not work for peanuts: they received wages for their work in the Tabernacle. Because of redemption, there would always have been tithe in the form of money, and not even the most ardent anti-tither can escape this. In reality though, everyone tithed on their monetary income and the Levites would have gotten quite a lot of tithe in the form of currency.

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