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God’s Word for You

Numbers 18:25-32 The tithe of tithes

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 8, 2021

25 The LORD told Moses 26 to speak to the Levites and tell them this: When you receive from the Israelites the tithe, which I have given to you as your possession, you will lift up an elevated offering from it for the LORD, a tenth of the tithe. 27 Your elevated offering will be credited to you, as if it were grain from the threshing floor and abundance from the winepress. 28 In this way you also are to lift up an elevated offering for the LORD from every one of the tithes which you receive from the Israelites. From the tithes, you will give the elevated offering for the LORD to Aaron the priest. 29 You will lift up every elevated offering for the LORD from the things given to you, from all the best, the holiest part of it.

Here we have the command for the elevated offering, also called the “heave offering” (King James). This is terumah in Hebrew. This was a special offering lifted up into the air by the priest before placing it on the altar for burning. In verse 26, the amount is described as “a tenth of the tithe.” That means that for every tithe brought in by the Israelites for their offering, a tenth was taken and presented to God. This counted as the tithe of the Levites given to God, as if the grain they were given came from their own threshing floor, and as if the wine that was poured out as a drink offering came from their own vats and winepresses, and so on.

30 Tell the Levites this: When you lift up the best part of the offering, it will be credited to the Levites as if it were produce from the threshing floor and the winepress. 31 You may eat it anywhere, with your household, for it is your wages in return for your work at the Tent of Meeting. 32 You will not become responsible for sin in regard to it when you lift up the best part of it. You will not defile the holy things from the Israelites, and you will not die.

There were actually some different words for this kind of offering. The biccurim were the firstfruits that were brought specifically to the tabernacle (or Temple, Nehemiah 10:35). What are mentioned here were the terumah (plural terumoth), which were firstfruits that could be brought to any priest and did not need to be offered at the national sanctuary. How this would work, however, is not clear to me, since the tenth of the tithe would need to be taken to the altar.

Later Jews (after the time of Christ) felt that only seven items were included in the biccurim firstfruits: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and figs (and there was a debate about honey). This was partly based on Deuteronomy 8:8, where those are all mentioned as being the produce of the land.

Once these offerings were brought, the priests would take the tenth (tithe of the tithe) from the best of what was received, and this was the elevated offering for the Lord. Once this was done, the Lord explains, then the priests and Levites could consume the rest without any guilt. “You will not defile the holy things from the Israelites, and you will not die” (verse 32).

How should we apply this today? We can see the same terumoth that need to happen in our churches, even though few of the members of our churches would understand this to be the case. Those people who are called to be workers in the church: pastors, ministers, church administrators, principals, and teachers, all receive their income from the offerings of the members. Therefore, their own church offerings are just like the terumah offering at the tabernacle of Moses. It is a portion of what they (we) are given by the members of the church. My case is probably typical in our fellowship. I am forbidden from working outside the church (I can’t get a side job for extra income—this is stated in my Call), and therefore my house payments, car payments, college tuition for my sons, high school tuition for the son still in high school, taxes, gas, groceries, and mending my clothes, all comes from this one income, the gifts of the church. And my church offerings also come from this same income, happily given. I don’t begrudge any of the bills I pay, but there is a different emotion when I write out the weekly check for my church envelope.

That offering, the offering of the ministers and teachers, is the echo today of the terumah, except that it is not commanded. It is freely given. I have known some small churches that could not have kept their doors open without the pastor’s weekly offerings and his humble acceptance of a salary that no one else would ever accept. But those are extreme cases; churches built and standing on the backs of their own servants.

When gifts are given from a sincere heart, thanking God, then God knows and is pleased with what’s been given. The angel told Cornelius: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4). And when the Philippians sent gifts to Paul while he was in prison in Rome the first time, he said: “The gifts you sent are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). The things that you and I bring to the Lord should be freely given, not out of a sense of guilt or obligation, but out of thanks to Jesus for his glorious work, and out of thanks for all of the blessings the gospel brings. For without Christ, we might think that our gifts were some kind of payment or bribe to the Lord for his forgiveness and compassion. This works in human settings because secret gifts “soothe anger” and “pacify great wrath” (Proverbs 21:14) and open doors (Proverbs 18:16; Psalm 45:12). But this doesn’t work with God. Such gifts are “not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9). Only Christ’s blood does anything before God, and the work of that blood was accomplished long ago, so long ago that the historical date is recalled in the creeds and confessions with the words “under Pontius Pilate.” Give praise to God for the gift of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was lifted up as the sacrifice for us all. Having given thanks, eat your daily bread with a clear conscience. You are blessed by the God of all blessings.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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