Deuteronomy 14:22-29 – Sharing the Tithes


Deuteronomy 14:22-29


The festival tithe, or “second tithe” is specifically used for pilgrimage festivals each year, and consumed by the person who brings the tithe, and her or his neighbors. The poor tithe, or “third tithe” is given directly to the Levites, foreigners, widows, and orphans in the towns. 


This tithe is the festival tithe, sometimes called the “second tithe” which is to be eaten by the person who brings it in the presence of God – that is, in Jerusalem. This should not be confused with the first tithe (Numbers 18:21-26) which was given directly to the Levites, wherever the people lived. Nor should it be confused with the first offering that is given directly to the priests.

During the three pilgrimage festivals, described in Deuteronomy 16, those who harvested were to either bring one tenth of their total harvest to Jerusalem, or to sell the equivalent amount of harvest and bring the proceeds of that sale to Jerusalem. Once there, they could buy whatever they wanted – meat, wine, strong drinks, or anything else desired. The only stipulations were that the feast had to be eaten in the presence of God, all of the household (including not just family, but also servants) had to rejoice, and that the Levite, who had no potential for large agricultural inheritance, had to be invited. Thus, the Levites were supported directly by the first tithe, and were also to have, in essence, a funded vacation to Jerusalem three times a year. The Levites were to be included in parties and feasts. The second tithe food [or the first tithe, for that matter] is not holy in the sense that it can only be eaten by certain people. Instead, its purpose is to fund communal meals where people from different walks of life eat and celebrate together, a bit like a communal thanksgiving meal. 

This passage closes with the third tithe, or the poor tithe. This tithe was collected each third and sixth year of a seven-year cycle (to be discussed in the next chapter, Deuteronomy 15). Instead of the festival tithe, as in years one, two, four and five in the seven-year cycle, in years three and six, the tithe was to be kept locally, and given directly to the Levite, the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, so that they might eat and be satisfied. It was hoped that the tithe would be sufficient in those years, in addition to gleaning in the seventh year, to provide for the target groups through the rest of the seven-year cycle. 

Deuteronomy instructs that tithing is not simply a matter of turning over gifts to God. Indeed, almost none of the tithes make their way to the temple for temple service. “Temple taxes” and freewill offerings were entirely distinct from tithe systems. Tithes were to provide for the needs of neighbors, especially neighbors who did not have the means to provide for themselves. It is for this reason that Jesus chided certain Pharisees for tithing of spices, but neglecting weightier matters, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness – they should practice the former AND the latter (Matthew 23:23). The tithe system was, first and foremost, about justice, mercy, and faithfulness to people who did not have the same means of production and provision.