10. (O.T.) The tithe during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah

The Tithe?

10.  Old Testament
The Tithe During the Times of Ezra and Nehemiah

The third exodus
The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi should all be read in context of the same period in history, having the books of Nehemiah and Malachi written to the same people. It covers the time period from 536 B.C. to about 400 B.C

Following the rebuilding of the temple, little progress had been done in the development of the walls around Jerusalem. Walls around cities were important protectors from enemies; therefore, a critical necessity. Two things were significant why the walls had not been built: 1) Whenever the people started working on the walls, their more powerful neighbors forced them away, or 2) orders would come from the Persian court to temporarily halt the work. [i] Now, almost 100 years had passed since the first exodus with little progress done on the building of the city walls. God then brought forth Nehemiah, cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes, to lead a group to rebuild the wall. Invested with royal power, Nehemiah, along with Ezra to serve as the high priest in the temple, led an expedition of 125,000 people back to Jerusalem. They stopped off at the King’s Forest to stock up on timber for the building of the wall. [ii] When they arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was given the position of governor, having authority to organize a labor force and rebuilt the city walls. It was miraculously done in 52 days. He stayed in Jerusalem for 12 years governing over the people, along with leading them in several important religious reforms. He returned the people back to pure worship and a renewed emphasis on how God wanted His people to worship Him. He was then required by the king in Persia to return to his former position.

Temple Tax

According to Alfred Edersheim, noted Jewish historian, when the walls were completed, the Jews agreed to be taxes to provide for the temple needs. The temple tax consisted of the shekel - not the tithe. It became the temple’s greatest source of income. Sacrificial animals were purchased from the shekel for all of the feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths, and with that money there was enough to provide the civil necessities such as wall and road repair (Neh 10:32). The priests and Levites were then charged with receiving the sacrifices according to their usual order of twenty four, as was done previously before the exile (2 Chron23:8). The people were also required to bring their first fruits of the ground, as was written in the law, to the temple so the priests who ministered had enough to eat while they served their duty (Neh 10:35-37a). Neh. 10:37b states that the tithes were to be brought to the Levites in the Levitical cities in the rural towns (not Jerusalem) for their service, as their inheritance, so they would have enough for their families, and providing sustenance for all year. Again, this is according to the Law of Moses as is written in Num 35:2-3). The Levites then gave a tenth of the tithe to the temple as was done before the exile. The only priests who remained in Jerusalem were the high priest, the Aaronic lineage of priests, and a select number of workers in the temple. By far, the majority of the Levites lived in the Levitical cities.

As bitter enemies of Israel, Tobiah, the Ammonite, along with Sanballat the Horonite, were responsible for causing great trouble with Nehemiah in the building of the walls of Jerusalem.

Ezra apparently had died, and Eliashib became the high priest over the people. Nehemiah then returned to Persia to serve the king in his normal capacity. Back in Israel, Eliashib became allied (through marriage) when his grandson married the daughter of Sanballat, the governor of pagan Samaria. In addition, a family member of Eliashib intermarried with a pagan Ammonite. This created a friendship between Eliashib and Tobiah the Ammonite who was an official of Sanballat. Intermarriage with the pagans was against the Law of Moses.

This intermarriage within the high leadership of Israel caused some priests to intermarry with pagan women as well. As a result, the Israelites began to revert back to their old ways. They were no longer giving the best tithes to the Levites - they were giving second-grade animals for sacrifices, resulting in not honoring the Lord with the correct produce from their land. In return, corruption was running rampant in the temple.

Eliashib had the storerooms (which stored the meat, grain and wine from the first fruits, sacrifices and tithes) in the temple emptied out to give living chambers for Tobiah’s new residence. With the storehouse now being lived in and occupied by Tobiah, the priests no longer had storage for the tithes that were brought in. With the corruption that came, they no longer could perform their duties, and as such, they returned to their Levitical cities.

Within time, Nehemiah learned of the sins of Eliashib, Tobiah, the priests and the people. The temple had been defiled and corruption was spreading throughout the land. Having permission from the king, Nehemiah traveled back to Jerusalem to correct the situation. He gave orders to remove Tobiah the Ammorite from the temple, and had the storerooms purified. Nehemiah then commanded the people (a one-time command) to replace what was stolen out of the storage units in the temple (Neh 13:4-12). He then had trustworthy officials guard the storerooms to prevent any future thievery (Neh 13:13).

To continue on to section #11 on tithing, click here


[i] Halley’s Bible Dictionary
[ii] Wilmington Concordance


(Please read all previous chapters first)

Written by Pastor Joyce A. Erickson

Believers Bible School, Founder https://believersbibleschool.com/