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” (Leviticus 23:2-4 Leviticus 23:2-4 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
4 These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.
American King James Version×), 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 reminders 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×; Acts 12:2-4 Acts 12:2-4 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
American King James Version×; Acts 18:21 Acts 18:21But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that comes in Jerusalem: but I will return again to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
American King James Version×; Acts 20:16 Acts 20:16For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hurried, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
American King James Version×; Acts 27:9 Acts 27:9Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
American King James Version×; 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 30:1-27 2 Chronicles 30:1-27 1 And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover to the LORD God of Israel.
2 For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month.
3 For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem.
4 And the thing pleased the king and all the congregation.
5 So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.
6 So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, You children of Israel, turn again to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.
7 And be not you like your fathers, and like your brothers, which trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as you see.
8 Now be you not stiff necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he has sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.
9 For if you turn again to the LORD, your brothers and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.
10 So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even to Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.
11 Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.
12 Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the LORD.
13 And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.
14 And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron.
15 Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the LORD.
16 And they stood in their place after their manner, according to the law of Moses the man of God: the priests sprinkled the blood, which they received of the hand of the Levites.
17 For there were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD.
18 For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one
19 That prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.
20 And the LORD listened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.
21 And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with loud instruments to the LORD.
22 And Hezekiah spoke comfortably to all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the LORD: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers.
23 And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness.
24 For Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the congregation a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep: and a great number of priests sanctified themselves.
25 And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelled in Judah, rejoiced.
26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.
27 Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even to heaven.
American King James Version×; Ezra 3:1-13 Ezra 3:1-13 1 And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 And they set the altar on his bases; for fear was on them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon to the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; 5 And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD. 6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7 They gave money also to the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, to them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. 8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. 9 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites. 10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks to the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endures for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: 13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
American King James Version×; Ezra 6:1-22 Ezra 6:1-22 1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. 2 And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: 3 In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be built, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof three score cubits, and the breadth thereof three score cubits; 4 With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house: 5 And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought to Babylon, be restored, and brought again to the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God. 6 Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be you far from there: 7 Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. 8 Moreover I make a decree what you shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, immediately expenses be given to these men, that they be not hindered. 9 And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: 10 That they may offer sacrifices of sweet smells to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. 11 Also I have made a decree, that whoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. 12 And the God that has caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. 13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily. 14 And the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. 16 And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. 19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. 20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves. 21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, 22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
American King James Version×; Nehemiah 8:1-18 Nehemiah 8:1-18 1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. 2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. 8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said to all the people, This day is holy to the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy to our LORD: neither be you sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be you grieved. 12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. 13 And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, to Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law. 14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: 15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth to the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. 16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one on the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. 18 Also day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the manner.
American King James Version×).
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×; Galatians 3:26-28 Galatians 3:26-28 26 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×). 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 Deuteronomy 26:12-13 Deuteronomy 26:12-13 12 When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled; 13 Then you shall say before the LORD your God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded me: I have not transgressed your commandments, neither have I forgotten them.
American King James Version×, 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 12:6-18 Deuteronomy 12:6-18 6 And 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:
7 And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all that you put your hand to, you and your households, wherein the LORD your God has blessed you.
8 You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes.
9 For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God gives you.
10 But when you go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety;
11 Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to the LORD:
12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; for as much as he has no part nor inheritance with you.
13 Take heed to yourself that you offer not your burnt offerings in every place that you see:
14 But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.
15 Notwithstanding you may kill and eat flesh in all your gates, whatever your soul lusts after, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given you: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart.
16 Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth as water.
17 You 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:
18 But 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×; Deuteronomy 14:22-27 Deuteronomy 14:22-27 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, 27 And the Levite that is within your gates; you shall not forsake him; for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
American King James Version×). 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×; Deuteronomy 26:12 Deuteronomy 26:12When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled;
American King James Version×) 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” (Tobit 1:6-8, 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 25:1-22 Leviticus 25:1-22 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.
8 And you shall number seven sabbaths of years to you, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty and nine years.
9 Then shall you cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall you make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee to you; and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family.
11 A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you: you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of your vine undressed.
12 For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
13 In the year of this jubilee you shall return every man to his possession.
14 And if you sell ought to your neighbor, or buy ought of your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another:
15 According to the number of years after the jubilee you shall buy of your neighbor, and according to the number of years of the fruits he shall sell to you:
16 According to the multitude of years you shall increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years you shall diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits does he sell to you.
17 You shall not therefore oppress one another; but you shall fear your God: for I am the LORD your God.
18 Why you shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and you shall dwell in the land in safety.
19 And the land shall yield her fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.
20 And if you shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase:
21 Then I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.
22 And you shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in you shall eat of the old store.
American King James Version×), 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.