Sometimes the topic of tithing appears in unexpected places in the Bible. One such place is the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis. After seeing a breathtaking vision of stairs that reach to the heavens, Jacob responded to God with a promise: he pledged to give a “tenth” (עַשֵּׂר; aser) of everything that Hashem would give to him (Gen 28:22). Since Scripture typically frames tithing as an ordinance connected to priests and Temple (cf. Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21; Deut 12:17; Neh 10:38; Mal 3:8-10), a question arises for the reader of Genesis: How would Jacob fulfill his pledge before the Temple existed?  

Note that Jacob promised to give God a “tenth” with specific conditions: God was to protect him, keep him safe, provide food and clothing, and allow him to return to Canaan. Only then, says Jacob, will “the LORD will be my God (וְהָיָה יהוה לִי לֵאלֹהִים; vehaya YHWH li le-Elohim)” (Gen 28:20-21). Jacob would give God a tenth of everything because the Almighty would prove himself to be generous, caring, faithful, and trustworthy. Tithing (giving a tenth) is an act of worship – a token of allegiance and recognition of who truly provides all the goods that the worshipper enjoys.

Since, in the days of the patriarchs, Jacob’s God did not yet have a Temple or appoint a priesthood, Jacob planned to give this tenth in the form of a burnt offering. After returning to Canaan, Jacob bought land near the city of Shechem (Gen 33:18) and he immediately erected an altar there and called it “God, the God of Israel” (אֵל אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; El-Elohei-Israel). Then Jacob moved to Bethel, the very spot where he saw his vision of the heavenly staircase. Jacob built an altar there as well and called it “The God of Bethel” (אֵל בֵּית־אֵל; El-Beit-El). Jacob gave God the tenth that he pledged and it all went up in smoke as an act of devotion to the LORD.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Why did Jacob call two altars he built "god"? Did he believe there was a god of Bethel and a god of Israel as well? Is this just the way Prof. Shri writes? Or is there a deeper meaning? Could you please clarify this for me?
    John. M.
    • John, Jacob merely identified where he encountered God. He is not conceiving of multiple gods per se, just expressing it in a way modern-day people are not used to. In the ancient world, deities were very much tied to physical locations and that plays into his thinking.
  2. So what God gave to the children of Israel as an ordinance to wash away their sin is a form tithing; what of the tenth they gave to the priests, was it not a tenth of what they produced and had in livestock? Why were Israelite male supposed to appear
    • I do not know what you mean by "ordinance to wash away their sin is a form tithing" to answer your question. Be specific, give a reference. Otherwise too vague...
  3. Thanks for very helpful thought on tithe there are times that we often question old testament characters on tithe for example Priest Melchizedek who is he, is he God still remains mystery right?
  4. Tithe is simply an adjective that describes as tenth part. Tithing is a verb that describes the act of giving a tenth part of something or anything. God wants the whole of us, to use all that we got for His glory, lives totally surrendered to God, Creator of all.
  5. Sorry, but it seems like a waste of resources.

    At least with the temple sacrifices, those sacrifices were used to feed the priests.

    But just to burn 10% of one's goods seems to me like "burning money". I can't see any reason for this waste of resources.

    Sorry.
    • I totally get it. But this is where most of us modern people cannot understand the way the ancients worshipped. And it is our loss. Refusal to understand the way the patriarchs thought and worshiped will lead to our inability to understand the revelation they received from their Maker. That is why the Torah remains a sealed book for some many people.

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    • What if God appreciates it even if we don't? I think there is a bigger application - Like David, Worship has to cost something to us - in this case, land and livestock. I think we can't be overtly harsh from our vantage point alone
    • This response reminds me of Juda's frustration at seeing expensive perfume being 'wasted' on Jesus. You cannot reason with God's requirements. Just obey.
  6. Dear Prof. Am I correct in stating that God never requested the tithe, but that it is indeed a suggestion made by the fathers of Israel? If so, did God express His acceptance of the suggestion somewhere or did it simply became customary practice. Shalom to all.
    • In the age of the patriarchs, they simply followed the custom of showing honor to a local ruler. This was a normal way for everyone in the near east to pay homage and show allegiance. You can say they treated God in a way they would have treated a local King. At least in a similar way. And it seems that God did not object, but deemed it a meaningful and acceptable way to be worshipped. So perhaps this is how it started. But we should not exclude a possibility of special revelation too. Just because we do not have the information does not mean it did not happen.
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