The History of God’s People Giving - Part 1

As we wrapped up our series "Money: The Heart Of The Matter" this past Sunday, we did a survey of how God's people have been generous and gave financially throughout history. 

Often, when we approach the topic of giving, there is a natural human tendency in all of us to hold back, to be reserved. Part of this journey is also finding out what God wants from us!

What we've discovered together over the last three weeks is God wants your worship, your devotion, and your love.

God loves you so much, that we wants all of you, and he is on a mission to take down every other god we force him to compete with. As Christians, we have been wholly changed by Jesus Christ, the son of God, and we are given the Holy Spirit to continue on the work of Jesus and make us more like him. Living in God’s kingdom, means seeing the world (and all of it’s contents) through his eyes. 

The subject of giving is not built on God’s need for money, the church’s need for money or the religious obligations to support your local chapter of the organization known as the church.

The subject of Giving is built on the invitation to put your trust in God and to know that he is good, and to recognize that everything is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1) and for a short time, he gives us a part of his creation to steward faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

Over two posts, we're going to dig a little deeper into a history of God's people and how they gave. This will help us see the story we are apart of and the life God is calling us into. 

Old Testament Giving

Giving in the Old Testament, especially looking at the nation of Israel, God's chosen people, was really diverse - it wasn't a simple a 10% tithe we all assume!

Israel was to give their tithes, freewill offerings, redeem their firstborn and animals, pay various taxes and provide sacrifices. The tithe was simply one part of a much larger structure of giving God had setup with his people through the Mosaic Covenant. Some estimate regular giving in Israel was closer to 25-35% when you factor in the various festivals and offerings, rather than the 10% we might think. 

Throughout the history of God’s people, we see four big pictures or patterns of giving and generosity:  

1. Tithe

The first record of what is historically known as the “tithe”, which means, “tenth” came from Genesis. It’s the first picture of giving we get. Abraham was following God’s instructions and growing as a man of faith and dependence on God. God had already promised him that he would bless him and that the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God continually invited Abraham into a deeper journey of faith and dependence on him as he prepared Abraham to be the “Father” of his people, Israel.

Abraham participated in a battle against a people who were attacking Sodom (where Abraham’s nephew was living), they had kidnapped Lot and ransacked the city of Sodom. Abraham joins forces with some other local cities and they go attack the attackers and get back Lot. In addition to that, they took the spoils of war from the city.

“After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:17-20 ESV)

This picture is powerful for so many reasons. The first is that this is the first mention of a priest in the Bible. The second is that there is no record of Melchizedek being the king of Salem or even, being alive for that matter. Melchizedek is a bit of a mysterious figure in scripture. The book of Hebrews fills in a bit of the story and tells us: 

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3 ESV)

The picture is that God has proven himself faithful to Abraham and Abraham responds by giving back to God from what God has provided. Abraham gives him a tenth of all that he had that day. The tithe was not something at that point that anyone had commanded Abraham to give, but was the act of worship and thankfulness that came out of Abraham as a result of God’s faithfulness.

That story sets the tone for the rest of Israel’s history.

2. Firstfruits

As God enters into a covenant relationship with Israel (the story of Exodus), he gives them the Law. The Law is God’s way of establishing a relationship with humanity, a holy God and a broken people, God invites them into a covenant, like marriage. The Law gives the parameters and expectations of the relationship. 

God says this to Israel in Exodus 22:

“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Exodus 22:29-30 ESV)

This picture is known as the “firstfruits” and it is a principle that God maintains with Israel throughout their relationship. The concept is that from everything that is produced and cultivated in Israel, the first and best portion of that should be given to God as an act of faith and trust that God is the provider for Israel.

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV)

God’s promise to Israel was, “Trust in me and I will provide for you. Put your faith in me and I will show you my power.”

At this point, the destination for the giving was not set as God was still establishing the priesthood and the tabernacle. The foundation of God’s invitation to Israel’s giving was most definitely a matter of trust and faith before it was a matter of funding anything. It’s about the heart of the matter before it’s about usefulness. In the years to come as God establishes the priesthood, the tabernacle and the temple he uses the tithes and offerings of the people of Israel to provide for the priesthood as they are the only people in God’s holy nation that does not do anything economically productive. So they live a life off the support of the rest of the nation. 

3. Gleaning

God has put on display his heart for the poor, the destitute, the orphan and the widow repeatedly. In addition to calling on Israel to give the firstfruits (initial 10%) of everything they produce, he also calls them to live with margin for generosity.

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22 ESV)

It’s the same picture we get in 1 Timothy 6, where Paul calls us to a life “ready to share.”

God calls his people to leave a margin in their harvest to be picked and gathered by the poor and the sojourner. He ends this command with the reminder, “I am the Lord your God.” God reminds them that he is the power and authority in this world. He will provide enough for his people to live faithfully giving lives AND lives of generosity towards the poor and the sojourner/immigrant. 

God’s invitation was to a life of margin. You don’t need everything you produce, keep some reserved for the people in this world who are struggling to provide for themselves. Live on less so you can be ready to generous as God leads and gives you opportunities. 

4. Offerings

Another way that God calls his people to give is in the form of offerings (this is different from the tithe/first fruits and from generosity for the poor). These are unique invitations to provide for the advancement of God’s purpose and presence on earth.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:1-8 ESV)

God’s invitation to Israel from time to time was to (as their hearts move) receive money and goods for specific projects. God called on Israel to build the tabernacle, to build the temple and to rebuild the temple.

In these moments it was an act of worship, gratitude and participation that moved Israel to provide everything that was need to build these projects that God had called Israel to build.

So, God’s people tithed, gleaned, gave the firstfruits and gave offerings - this was the reality for them. This was expected. This was the norm in God’s covenant with Israel. 

I'm not sure about you, but I've seen a lot of  "Failure to tithe 10% of your income was equal to thievery..." and "Christians are supposed to give 10% because that’s what God commands of his people."

But is this the case? Is 10% still required and expected? Or has the revelation of the gospel clarified how we are to think about giving? 

In the next post, we'll take a look at what we see in the new covenant, when Jesus enters history and humanity, and changes everything forever.

To view sermons from our series "Money: The Heart Of The Matter" click here