I read today’s chapter and thought about tithing. That’s really what the people of Israel did, after all. They tithed. They tithed people. They “donated” one out of every 10 to Jerusalem. What good was that rebuilt city – with its temple and its fortifications – if no one was living there? What good were those city walls if no one was living within them?
And so the people tithed their own people. They gave a tenth.
When we tithe our money, we give a tenth of what we’ve earned to the work of God’s kingdom. The offering plate is handed to you, and you drop in your tithe. Or in our case, we put our tithe in the hidden offering box in the newell post!
Some people feel very strongly about tithing. A Christian has a duty to tithe. One question they sometimes are asked is whether a person should tithe from his or her gross income or net income. A lot of employees’ take-home pay is several hundred dollars less than their gross pay, after taxes and insurance premiums are paid. So you can save a little on your tithe if you focus on your take-home pay. I once heard a wise old man answer that question by saying, “Well, do you want God to bless you based on your gross pay or your net pay?” We all want “gross” blessings from God! (By the way, that wise old man wasn’t a prosperity gospel type. He actually confessed to double-tithing because God had enabled he and his wife to do that. If you can give it to God, you should give it to God, he said.)
There are others who don’t believe the tithe still exists. Like the rest of the Old Testament Law, they say, the notion of tithing was fulfilled by Christ, and God’s people no longer are required to tithe. They argue there is no set amount we should give to the work of the church.
And then there others who don’t believe we should be talking about money at all. A Christian man once told me the preacher should never talk about money from the pulpit. “People don’t like that,” he said. Under this view, my money is my own business, and no one else’s. What I give is between me and God.
Ten percent isn’t all that much when you think about it. Most people can take a 10 percent hit on their income and still make it through. They might have to make some hard decisions here or there, but it’s doable. A lot of people are finding that out today as they suffer from lost wages during the pandemic. A 10 percent sacrifice is better than 100 percent sacrifice!
Certainly, in Nehemiah’s day, those towns and villages and families would miss all those folks whom they tithed away to Jerusalem. But those towns and villages and families would be OK without them. They would survive. It was only 10 percent. And, after all, it was the right thing to do.
And then I think about the 10 percent who were sent to live in Jerusalem. I wonder whether they really wanted to go. They already had established homes outside the city, in the villages around Judah. That’s where they had family and friends and businesses. And they had to leave all of that behind to go live in the holy city, to populate it.
I can imagine some of them saying to the people, “You only are giving 10 percent of the people to live in the city of Jerusalem, but you are giving ALL of me!”
We’re Americans – living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” – and so there’s something in our collective psyche that is uncomfortable with the idea of shipping people off like that. It’s a harsh infringement on freedom. Ancient Israel was a different kind of culture, of course. They were a “strong-group” culture – meaning individuals put the needs of their nation and tribes and families (likely in that order) in front of their own.
So I am guessing while each of those members of the “10 percent” may have had their personal feelings about needing to pick up and move into the city, they set those aside. The nation needed them. This was the right thing to do.
In all of this, the nation of Israel was looking forward to its full restoration. God had told them, through the prophet Jeremiah,
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).
And the return of the people to Israel from Persia – along with the re-construction of the temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the repopulating of the city – were all steps in this restoration process. This tithing of the 10 percent of the people must have been something like seeking God “with all your heart.”
And we can’t forget, the final piece of the restoration puzzle was the return of the King. The Israelites were waiting for that – a king from the Davidic line to bring the nation to full independence and prosperity. And it would be prosperity beyond belief.
The King has come.
I’ve always thought tithing is good thing. But you and I know what we’ve been given. And so tithing really is just a good start. We ought not give only 10 percent. We ought to give everything. That’s our calling as Christians. In reality, we are the tithe. Like those members of the 10 percent, the call for us is to leave everything and take up our crosses and follow Jesus. The path, of course, does ultimately lead to Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
The apostle Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).