Many people are surprised to learn that God, in His Word, reveals seven annual festivals (Leviticus 23). These special times of the year have been set aside by the Creator God as “holy convocations” (verses 2-4), sacred meetings or gatherings at which God's people are to assemble together. Like the weekly Sabbath, God set apart these festivals as sacred to Him.
God shows us in His Word that these holy festivals are times dedicated for group worship and abstention from normal work. They serve to enlighten God's people regarding His marvelous plan of salvation for all mankind. They are remind-ers of God's intervention for His people and foreshadow significant events in the fulfillment of His divine plan (Colossians 2:16 Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
American King James Version×).
God's people have observed these feasts from ancient times. Jesus observed them during His lifetime (Luke 2:40-43 Luke 2:40-43 40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was on him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
American King James Version×; John 7:37 John 7:37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.
American King James Version×), and His apostles and the early Church of God continued to do so after His death and resurrection in obedience to God's commands (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
American King James Version×; 12:2-4; 18:21; 20:16; 27:9; 1 Corinthians 5:8 1 Corinthians 5:8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×).
The Bible records that on several occasions—when a righteous leader led the people of God back to Him out of periods of deception and neglect in their relationship with Him—God's festivals were zealously observed as a prominent part of that spiritual reformation (2 Chronicles 30; Ezra 3, 6; Nehemiah 8).
Bible prophecy shows that the time is coming when God will see to it that the inhabitants of the earth are brought to the point of obediently observing His festivals (Zechariah 14:16-19 Zechariah 14:16-19 16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
17 And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
18 And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, with which the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×). (For a thorough explanation of the significance of these days, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind .)
Once we come to see the need to observe these festivals as God commands, a question naturally arises: Where do we get the financial resources to attend them?
The gathering together of God's people for group worship often involves significant expenses: temporary lodging, meals, transportation and the cost of providing a suitable place to hold worship services. Does God give instruction on how these festival expenses should be paid? Indeed He does. God gives instruction regarding a tithe of one's annual increase to be used for festival observance. Let's examine the Scriptures to understand this.
A tithe for the work of God
Elsewhere in this publication we explain from the Scriptures the first tithe. The first tithe, which is holy to God, is used to finance the mission of the Church of spreading the gospel and caring for those God calls to be a part of the Church. As was noted, this tithe is to be given by God's people so the commission of the Church can be carried out. To withhold it is tantamount to robbery from God (Malachi 3:8 Malachi 3:8Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
American King James Version×).
The first tithe is “holy unto the LORD” (Leviticus 27:30 Leviticus 27:30And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s: it is holy to the LORD.
American King James Version×). Under His covenant with Israel, God commanded His people to give His tithe to His representatives at the time, the Levites (Numbers 18:21 Numbers 18:21And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
American King James Version×). God gave the tithe to the Levites to support them in carrying out their commanded role of properly leading the people in worship. The people of the other 11 tribes were not to use this tithe for any personal purposes—it was to be given in its entirety to the Levites.
Jesus affirmed that those who serve God should continue to give this tithe, a 10th of their increase, since it belongs to God and not to them (Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×). He confirmed that tithing continues. But now God, through Jesus Christ, is making a “new” and “better” covenant with His people (Matthew 26:28 Matthew 26:28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 8:6-13 Hebrews 8:6-13 6 But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he said, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.
American King James Version×), no longer limited to the physical nation of Israel.
The group God is working with is now expanded to those of all nations, the Church of God, the spiritual “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16 Galatians 6:15-16 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
American King James Version×; 3:26-28). This change has required administrative revisions, including who should receive His tithe. No longer is it to be given to a physical tribe of Israel, the Levites.
The priesthood was changed (Hebrews 7:12 Hebrews 7:12For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
American King James Version×) when Christ was crucified and resurrected to become our High Priest. Now, under the New Covenant, it is understood that this tithe is to be received by those set aside by God as the ministers of Christ for carrying out His work.
A tithe for observing God's festivals
The first tithe was to be given in its entirety to the Levites. The individual giver was not to use any of it for personal consumption. This is important to keep in mind when we examine God's further instruction regarding tithing.
Notice that God commanded His people to come as a group to the location He would choose for them to observe the annual holy festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16 Deuteronomy 16:16Three times in a year shall all your males appear before the LORD your God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:
American King James Version×). In coming to this place, they were commanded to bring their tithes (plural—Deuteronomy 12:6 Deuteronomy 12:6And thither you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks:
American King James Version×).
One of these tithes, as we have already seen, was set aside entirely and exclusively for the use of the Levites. But God gives further instruction that another tithe (singular) was to be eaten by the individual, but not at home. It was to be set aside and consumed at the central festival worship location exclusively during the annual festivals (Deuteronomy 12:17 Deuteronomy 12:17You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herds or of your flock, nor any of your vows which you vow, nor your freewill offerings, or heave offering of your hand:
American King James Version×).
This prohibition of personal consumption at home would be unnecessary if there were only one tithe, the “first” tithe already discussed above. God had already made it clear that the first tithe was to be given in its entirety to the Levites (Numbers 18:21 Numbers 18:21And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
American King James Version×). Yet, in Deuteronomy 12:18 Deuteronomy 12:18But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you put your hands to.
American King James Version×, the individual was given the right to eat the tithe being specified as part of his joyous festival observance.
This tithe for personal use in festival observance is an additional or second tithe, quite distinct from the first tithe given to the Levites. In Deuteronomy 14:22-26 Deuteronomy 14:22-26 22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year.
23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
24 And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you:
25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose:
26 And you shall bestow that money for whatever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household,
American King James Version×God gives further explanation of the purpose of this second, or festival, tithe. It is to be used by God's people to enjoy the physical abundance He provides, at His feasts, as they worship Him and learn to honor and obey Him in a manner that is pleasing to Him and a blessing to them.
The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived about the time of Christ and came from a family of priests, documented the understanding of his time regarding this festival tithe. In Antiquities of the Jews, we find the following statement summarizing and paraphrasing God's commandments given through Moses: “Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priests and Levites . This you may indeed sell in the country, but it is to be used in those feasts and sacrifices that are to be celebrated in the holy city: for it is fit that you should enjoy those fruits of the earth which God gives you to possess” (Book 4, chapter 4, section 8, emphasis added).
Although the need for physical sacrifices ended with Christ's one perfect sacrifice of Himself, God expects us to continue to observe His festivals, as shown by the practices of the apostles and early Church.
Today the members of the United Church of God, an International Association, understand and observe God's deeply meaningful annual festivals. They also practice the method God has revealed in His Word to finance these observances. Members save a 10th of their annual increase to be able to attend the feasts.
The members who are able also contribute a portion of their festival tithe to defray the costs of the Church in observing these feasts, including providing meeting places and financial assistance for people otherwise unable to afford to attend. They gather in locations around the world to rejoice before God and learn, out of His Word, about His marvelous plan of salvation.
A tithe to care for the poor
We have seen the instructions found in God's Word for the financing of the work of the Church and the observance of God's annual festivals. The Scriptures, however, contain additional financial instruction: how we are to care for the poor. God does not forget them.
Jesus acknowledged that conditions would always be prevalent that would lead to some people being truly poor and in need (John 12:8 John 12:8For the poor always you have with you; but me you have not always.
American King James Version×). But He also said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35 Acts 20:35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
American King James Version×). His apostles taught the same, that Christians have an obligation to help others who are truly in need (Galatians 2:10 Galatians 2:10Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
American King James Version×; 1 Timothy 5:3 1 Timothy 5:3Honor widows that are widows indeed.
American King James Version×).
The teaching of Jesus and His disciples is a continuation of the commandments found in God's Word regarding the obligation of those more blessed to help those truly in need. Twice in the Scriptures, in Deuteronomy 14:28 Deuteronomy 14:28At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates:
American King James Version×and 26:12-13, God gives instruction regarding a tithe that is to be saved and distributed every third year.
The “first” tithe and festival (“second”) tithe were to be saved every year. The first was taken to a central place of worship for distribution and the second for consumption (Deuteronomy 12:6 Deuteronomy 12:6And thither you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks:
American King James Version×, 17-18; 14:22-27). The special tithe of the third year, however, was handled quite differently. It was to be set aside locally and stored within each city or town (Deuteronomy 14:28 Deuteronomy 14:28At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates:
American King James Version×; 26:12) for the use of the Levites and the poor of the community—the stranger, fatherless and widow.
Historical sources describe three tithes
Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, clearly states that this tithe collected for the poor was different from the other two: “Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want [i.e., lack]; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans” ( Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, chapter 8, section 22).
In the apocryphal book of Tobit, which many scholars date to about 200 B.C., the writer states: “I, for my part, would often make the pilgrimage alone to Jerusalem for the festivals, as is prescribed for all Israel by perpetual decree. Bringing with me the first fruits of the field and the firstlings of the flock, together with a tenth of my income and the first shearings of the sheep, I would hasten to Jerusalem and present them to the priests, Aaron's sons, at the altar. To the Levites who were doing service in Jerusalem I would give the tithe of the grain, wine, olive oil, pomegranates, figs and other fruits.
“And except for sabbatical years, I used to give a second tithe in money, which each year I would go and disburse in Jerusalem. The third tithe I gave to orphans and widows, and to converts who were living with the Israelites. Every third year I would bring them this offering, and we ate it in keeping with the decree of the Mosaic law and the commands of Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel; for when my father died, he left me an orphan” ( 1:6-8 1:6-8
American King James Version×, New American Bible).
It is important to note that a seven-year cycle was in place. The seventh year was a year of rest for the land during which no crops were planted (Leviticus 25:1-7 Leviticus 25:1-7 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to the LORD.
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest to the land, a sabbath for the LORD: you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.
5 That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, neither gather the grapes of your vine undressed: for it is a year of rest to the land.
6 And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for you, and for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired servant, and for your stranger that sojournes with you.
7 And for your cattle, and for the beast that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.
American King James Version×, 18-22), so there was no “increase” every seventh year. God promised to provide His faithful people with enough bounty in the sixth year that they could let the land rest in the seventh year. We can conclude, then, that the tithe to be set aside every third year was actually set aside in years three and six of a seven-year cycle.
Were this not the case, there would be a problem in the 21st year. The two laws (a tithe of the increase every third year, and a land rest with no increase every seventh year) would be in conflict in year 21. The flow of Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Deuteronomy 14:28-29 28 At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates:
29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
American King James Version×, dealing with the special tithe for the poor every third year, immediately followed by instructions dealing with the special nature of every seventh year in Deuteronomy 15:1 Deuteronomy 15:1At the end of every seven years you shall make a release.
American King James Version×, further indicates that the “third” tithe applies to the third and sixth years of a seven-year cycle.
In modern times the tendency of national governments to institute mandatory taxes for social welfare and care for the poor has led to a dilemma. If the government taxes a person's income through social security and similar welfare taxes, and uses those funds for the care and maintenance of the poor, is a Christian obligated to pay the special tithe in addition? If we pay taxes for this purpose—at rates far higher than a 10th of one's increase two years out of seven—must we still set aside a tithe two of every six years, also for the care of the poor?
What about today?
In addressing this question, the Council of Elders, the primary governing body of the United Church of God, has examined the matter and concluded that, when Christians are forced to pay social welfare taxes at high rates common in many countries, it is appropriate to provide relief from such double payments for the same purpose. As an administrative matter, the council has issued the following statement:
“The Council of Elders has resolved that where governments provide programs, the intent and purpose of which is to provide for the needs of those that the biblical third tithe was designed to assist, and that where such programs are funded by an annual rate of taxation greater than the biblical third tithe, members are not obligated to pay what amounts to an additional third tithe to the Church.
“The Council of Elders further resolves that since there will always be members of the Church whose needs will not be adequately provided for by national government social programs, and since the clear example in Scripture is that the Church care for its members in need (Leviticus 19:9-10 Leviticus 19:9-10 9 And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 58:7 Isaiah 58:7Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?
American King James Version×; Matthew 25:35-40 Matthew 25:35-40 35 For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36 Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? 38 When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? 39 Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? 40 And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.
American King James Version×; Galatians 2:9-10 Galatians 2:9-10 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go to the heathen, and they to the circumcision. 10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
American King James Version×), that those members of the Church who are able are encouraged to contribute to the Church Assistance Fund so that the biblical injunction to care for the needy within the Church can be fulfilled.”
This represents the understanding and application of the third tithe in our day and age by the United Church of God.