This article is part 2 of a series about tithing. Questions and comments are welcome.
The Rules of Discussion:
1. Be respectful.
2. Be on-topic.
3. Be clear and concise.
4. Be a Berean: “They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (Acts 17:11)
The second mention of tithing in Scripture is in Genesis 28. The background behind this chapter begins in Genesis 27. Please study both chapters for yourself, because I’m only going to provide a summary.
A SUMMARY OF GENESIS 28
This chapter begins with Jacob fleeing for safety from his brother Esau. But before Jacob left, his father Isaac forbid him from marrying a Canaanite woman and sent him to his mother Rebekah’s hometown of Haran to find a wife among his uncle Laban’s daughters. Then Isaac pronounced the blessing of Abraham upon Jacob: “May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations! May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings he promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)
Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran, and at sundown he set up camp and fell asleep. While he slept, God visited him in a dream and said “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15)
Jacob woke up from his dream in awe of God and afraid. So early the next morning he took the stone that he rested his head against, set it up as a memorial pillar and anointed it with oil, and he named that place Bethel which means “house of God.” Then Jacob made this vow: “IF God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and IF he will provide me with food and clothing, and IF I return safely to my father’s home, THEN the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
DOES GENESIS 28 PROVE THAT WE MUST TITHE TODAY?
Some supporters of modern-day “tithing” claim that Jacob’s vow proves that “a tithing commandment existed before the Old Covenant, therefore tithing is an eternal universal principle, and we are still obligated by God to tithe 10% of our income to our local assembly or religious leaders.” However, they ignore the following:
1. Tithing was NOT a part of God’s covenant with Jacob (see Genesis 28:13-15). Anyone who claims that tithing was a part of God’s covenant with Jacob is lying on God, Jacob, and adding to Scripture.
2. God’s promise to bless Jacob was based on faith — not tithing. God had already promised to bless Jacob before he ever vowed to give God a tenth. Anyone who claims that God’s promise to Jacob was based on tithing or that God blessed Jacob “because of his tithing” is in error.
3. God didn’t command Jacob to tithe. Jacob took it upon himself to vow a tenth of everything God gave him. Anyone who claims that God commanded Jacob to tithe is lying.
4. Jacob did not vow out of faith. He vowed out of unbelief/doubt, fear, and manipulation. Anyone who claims that Jacob vowed out of faith in God is confused and deceived.
5. Nowhere in Genesis 28 does it instruct us to tithe. Nor did the prophets, apostles, or Jesus quote Genesis 28 to teach anyone to tithe 10% of their income. Anyone who quotes Genesis 28 to teach you to tithe 10% of your income is in error and mishandling the Scriptures.
6. The Scriptures do not say if Jacob ever kept his vow, nor does the Bible say if he ever gave a tenth to anyone else. Anyone who claims that Jacob was a regular tither or a faithful tither is speculating, building a tithing doctrine on speculation, and adding to Scripture.
SHOULD WE FOLLOW JACOB’S EXAMPLE IN GENESIS 28?
Some supporters of modern-day “tithing” say that we should follow Jacob’s example in Genesis 28 by tithing 10% of our income, but a close examination of the text shows that we should most definitely NOT follow Jacob’s example in Genesis 28.
Jacob was a man of God, but during the beginning of his life he often doubted God and behaved in a manipulative manner. For example, he took advantage of his brother Esau during a weak moment and stole’s Esau’s birthright (see Genesis 27). He aso deceived and manipulated his father by pretending to be Esau in order to steal his brother’s blessing.
In Genesis 28, Jacob once again doubted God and behaved in a manipulative manner, by trying to strike a bargain with God. Jacob said “IF God will” do this for me, and “IF He will” do that for me, and “IF He will” such and such. . .“THEN the Lord will certainly be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
Jacob’s vow shows that he did not trust God in this instance. Earlier in the chapter, his father Isaac had already pronounced the blessing of Abraham over his life. Then God appeared to Jacob in a dream and personally pronounced the blessing of Abraham to him. Jacob had every reason to trust God, because not only did he hear the blessing of Abraham pronounced to him by his father and the Lord, but he also saw physical evidence that God keeps His promises because he personally witnessed how God blessed his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac.
There was no reason for Jacob to attempt to bargain with the Lord, because God had already promised to take care of him, and Jacob should have known that the Lord would take care of him just as He took care of Abraham and Isaac. The Lord would not promise to take care of Jacob, then not do it. He is not a man that He should lie. He is True and Faithful. Jacob showed that he really didn’t know the Lord nor trust Him to take care of him when he said “IF God will indeed be with me and protect me and provide for me”. . . . . . IF? There is no such thing as “IF” or “maybe” when God promises us something. All the promises of God in Christ Jesus are YES and AMEN (2 Corinthians 1:20).
God did not tell Jacob that He would only provide for him if he tithed. He told Jacob that He would provide for him – period. If God will provide for birds who neither plant, harvest, nor store food in barns — then how much more will He provide for His people? “If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 6:30) If the Lord is truly our Shepherd, then we shall not want, lack or need (Psalm 23:1). He will provide for us by virtue of who He is — the Good Shepherd, the one who leads and guides us into green pastures, the one who leads us to still waters, the one who gives us life more abundantly. He cannot be manipulated like a “heavenly genie in the sky” to provide for us through wheeling and dealing, bargain-making, swearing an oath, or vowing to give Him 10% of our income.
Many people who support modern-day “tithing” are like Jacob. They do not fully trust God to provide for them because He is faithful, loving, and gracious. They believe that they must appease God into providing for them by giving a tenth of their income. They are scared that if they don’t practice modern-day “tithing” that God will not provide for them. The truth of the matter is that God provides for us because of His faithfulness, love, and grace. No one can boast that God provides for them because they give 10% of their income. Yet many people who practice modern-day “tithing” pat themselves on the back when God provides for them, and say that God took care of them because of what they did and not because of who He is. That gives the glory to self instead of God.
When God appeared to Jacob in his dream, He said “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13). God announced Himself to Jacob as the God of his forefathers, and He was also Jacob’s God. Yet Jacob said that if God did x, y, and z for him — then and only then would he worship the Lord as his God. The Lord had already proclaimed Himself as the True and Living God, the God of Jacob’s forefathers — He had already demonstrated His character and power, so He did not need to prove Himself worthy of being God and worthy of being worshiped. Jacob was irreverent when he said that the Lord would be his God “only IF God did x, y, and z.” The Lord was already His God and worthy to be worshiped.
Lastly, Jacob made a thoughtless rash vow, and Christ forbid us from making vows in Matthew 5:33-37: “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
Surely we should not imitate Jacob if he did something that Christ forbid. Human beings have a tendency to get caught up in the moment and use poor judgment by making hasty vows that we can’t keep. Yet we don’t know what tomorrow holds, so we can’t be certain if we can keep a vow. It’s unnecessary for us to make vows, because our word should be sufficient. Whether we say “yes” or “no” that should be exactly what we mean. Swearing oaths and making vows opens us up to the enemy because he can use our vow to trap us, make us look dishonest, unworthy of being trusted, and compromise our witness.
Beware of churches, ministries, and religious leaders who tell you to swear an oath, sign covenants, or vow a tenth or some other portion of your income. They are instructing you to do something which Jesus forbid. In the New Covenant, we do not swear oaths, sign extra-Biblical covenants, and make vows to show our commitment to God or “partner” with a ministry.
Some Believers make the mistake of assuming that if a patriarch of the Faith did something, then God must approve of it and we should do it too. But that is a dangerous assumption to make, because the patriarchs sometimes said and did things that were ungodly, and this is definitely the case with Jacob’s vow in Genesis 28. He did not set a godly example that we should imitate in Genesis 28. He set an example of what NOT to do.
Furthermore, the patriarchs practiced various things that are no longer in effect. For example, they offered up animal sacrifices and kept the law of physical circumcision — both of which we do not practice because animal sacrifices and the law of physical circumcision are no longer in effect in the New Covenant. The animal sacrifices foreshadowed Jesus Christ, who “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26), and the law of physical circumcision foreshadowed spiritual circumcision which is “the cutting away of your sinful nature” (Colossians 2:11). So, just because the patriarchs practiced something does not mean it is an “eternal universal principle” or commandment binding upon New Covenant Believers. We have a totally different Covenant with God than the patriarchs, based on better promises.
God does not want us to imitate the ungodly things that the patriarchs did, nor does He want us to keep obsolete out-dated practices that the patriarchs kept. He does however, want us to imitate the FAITH of the patriarchs by trusting Him, but on a much greater level by being a living sacrifice like Jesus Christ — who is our ultimate example.