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.



  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…

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  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?

    • There are many Melchizedek traditions out there. Don’t really want to get into it, because that is not the topic of the article, a relatively minor issue and highly subjective unless a particular text is in view.

  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.


    • 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.

    • 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

  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.

  7. In Gen. 14: 17 – 20 is found one of the earliest recorded applications of the tithe on a “public” scale with the Melchizedek, king of Salem, involved. Is Melchizedek an historically verified figure (as some see him as a precursor to Jesus i.e. simultaneously King and High Priest). Blessings!

    • He is historically verified in a sense of other people mentioning him, acknowledged his existence. We are talking serious antiquity now, and we have litte tangible evidence from that era about most individuals. We have limited relics and records to go by. So verifiable is a subjective term. As much as any person from that era can be verified, I guess.

  8. I’ve been a born again Christian for more than 30 years but there still so much that I need to learn. I’ve got this burning need to understand the word, to please God but somehow I feel like I always fall short. Can you help?

    • Sylvia, you are not alone here. I have been studying these things most of my life and I too have so much to learn. My service to help people understand the Scriptures to the degree that I have understood them. My proposal is let’s learn together and continue growing in Hashem together. Iron sharpens iron. Join us and lets study together!

  9. Shalom Prof. Shir; Was where “Jacob built an altar and called it “The God of Bethel”” was this the same place where Abram built the altar after God’s appearance? A second question did this place then become Bethlehem?
    Thank you ProffessorShir for your insights. 🙂

    • Second question – no. First question – Which instance? God appeared to Abraham many times… If you pull up particular text, the contexts will usually tell you where that happened. A good Atlas of the Bible or Biblical dictionary will give you an answer where that location was exactly. What I am saying, Rodney, – a little research and you can answer your own question! Wouldn’t that be ideal?

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  10. The bible does not make it clear that Jacob gave tithing. The fact that he erected two altars and offered sacrifices there is no proof, only that he was worshiping God on those specific occasions. But as for tithing, it means nothing.

    • You are absolutely correct. No explicit evidence of tenth in those texts. All we know Jacob made a promise to give God his tenth. My suggestion is that this is how he did it. This is an educated guess. Otherwise, we have no record of Jacobe ever fulfilling his promise to God.

  11. up in smoke… rich! Not many of my fellow american churchgoers commenting on this article nor can I imagine many preachers using it in a sermon. The thought of bringing money up to a Sunday morning alter service and burning it as an act of devotion makes me chuckle.

    • LOL, that makes people feel bad, burning money (illegal by US laws by the way). If people value money too much that would make them cringe, for sure. But this would be a legitimate act of worship. However, God does not ask for that. In the Temple, the sin offering was burned up totally, but many others were used by the priestly families and even worshippers. There are other ways to worship God, too, for the more pragmatic folks. 🙂 Giving charity is worship too!

    • We are glad that you are finding our articles enlightening. You’ve already started your path into Scripture, but there’s so much more that awaits you! Consider enrolling in our immersive online courses: The Stories of Jewish Christ: Among the Rabbis or . We guarantee that they will deepen your understanding of Scripture and enrich your faith experience.

    • I tend to cynicism and humor, so my experience and re-reading comments here, the western church can con-coct many ways to extor… exact resources as acts of worship. Many potluck meals may should have gone up in smoke! We borrow His resources to give back to Him as worship.

  12. Love your articles and the timing of finding this article is perfect. I was just studying about tithing today with a friend and this provides more insight on the topic. Thank you.

  13. Nowhere in the Bible does it show that Jacob gave the tithe and knowing his tendency to manipulate I think a more sound view is that he promised to “secure” favor but most probably did not come through on what he promised.

  14. Shalom Prof. Shir, may Hashem bless you and the rest of the people at The Bible Center. Prof. I just want to ask if thithing is Biblical to give to church alone or is it possible to give to the needy.?
    Blessings Manda

    • Some pastors may hate me for this but in my opinion tithes and offerings ultimately belong to God, not to any religious institution or any religious dignitary. They should be used to support religious institutions, and these institutions have a responsibility to use those donations in a God-honoring way. But at the same time, I feel that not all invest and allocate those funds by the same priorities God highlights. So one has to be discerning. Helping the needy is at the top for God and thus I feel there is nothing wrong in bypassing any religious institution and helping people directly and not doing it through them. In fact, I prefer to do it this way, personally. That is my way of looking at things.

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