4. (O.T.) The tithe under the Law of Moses (In the wilderness)

The Tithe?

4.  Old Testament
The Tithe under the Law of Moses - During Wilderness Wanderings

(Please read all previous articles on tithing first)

During the process of 400+ years of history, God brought Joseph, grandson of Jacob, to the land of Egypt. Through a series of unfortunate events, God blessed him and he became second in command to the Pharoah in a land that was about to enter into a famine. Directed by God, Joseph developed a plan of preservation of grain that would carry Egypt through the famine years. Back in Canaan, however, Joseph’s brothers and father were starving. This starvation brought them to Egypt to seek out the sale of grain. Again, through another series of events, Joseph was reunited with his family. His family and servants, consisting of 70 people left their starving land to seek better conditions in Egypt. What, however, was originally a blessing of freedom away from starvation in Canaan eventually, over the centuries, brought them into the bondage of slavery. They needed a deliverer to set them free and bring them back to their land of Canaan. Moses was that deliverer, who by the direct command and power of God, brought the descendants of Joseph, who had now turned into a nation of over two million people, out of bondage and routed back to their land of Canaan.  Moses, under the direction of God, however, led the people southward into the desert wilderness of Shur to the Wilderness of Sin and then, three months later, settled in for the next year in the Sinai desert near Mount Herob. The easy route would have been northward along the Fertile Crescent, known as the King’s Highway, which was a trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia, having Canaan at its center point. This would have taken them no more than two month to travel. Two things, however, caused them to not go that route - they would have had certain conflict with powerful enemies along the way, and the Israelites had diminished their relationship with God and needed time to be redeveloped again. Time alone in the wilderness with the LORD would afford them the opportunity. This then became a pivotal time for God to teach His people a new way of life.

The First Tabernacle - The Tent of Meetings

The book of Exodus provides us the beginnings of an organized system of leading a massive group of people. Moses, out of exhaustion in personally ministering to individual needs was given the suggestion by Jethro, his father-in-law, to separate the people in ranking lots with leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifty, and tens. The leaders, called elders, having various levels of authority, could then minister to the individual needs. Thus it placed Moses in a position to minister only to the extreme cases and spend the necessary time with God so he could minister to the people as a whole of the statutes of the LORD.

When Moses went up on the mountain, God taught or gave him many things:

  • The giving of the Decalogue (the Law as written in the Ten Commandments), that would be the foundational laws of the people
  • The giving of another 613 laws on how to best survive in the wilderness
  • Instruction on setting up the Sabbath-Day rest
  • Instructions on the building of the tabernacle of God
  • The installation of sacrifices, burnt offerings and feasts
  • Instructions on how to build the foundation of the Levitical priesthood
  • Instruction on the future installation of the first fruits, the tithes of the land and animals
  • The 7th year Sabbath
  • The Year of Jubilee.

It is important to note here that the implementation of the first fruits, tithes from the produce of their land and animals, 7th year Sabbath and Year of Jubilee could not be instituted until the people entered into and occupied the promised land.

Worship of the Golden Calf

While Moses was up on the mountain hearing from God, Aaron, Moses’ brother and assistant, was ordered to watch over the people. After three days, hearing the rumblings in the sky, the people became afraid and convinced that Moses had died and was not coming back. They reverted back to their old ways, with many persuading Aaron to allow the building of a golden calf of worship, which was a replica of the one the Egyptians worshipped as diety back in their land of bondage. When Moses returned from his time with God and saw the revelry and idolatry, his anger drew him to smash the Decalogue on the ground. Repentant of his part in the idolatry, Aaron made the people go naked for their shame. Moses had the golden calf burned to powdered ashes and spread it across the water. He then made the people drink of that water. He then gave a command for the people to make a choice of who they were going to serve. All those who would not serve the LORD were killed by the hands of the Levites. Thus, three thousand people were killed. Moses went before God, repentant of their deeds, and God told him that all who sinned against Him would be struck by a plague and would be blotted out of His Book of Life. Thus, many more died. God then instructed Moses to lead the people to their promised land; however, only one angel would guide the way and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, and other surrounding enemies. God stated He would not go with them, calling them a “stiffnecked people and wanted to destroy them. Since the plague when God had killed many, the people were left with great awe and fear of Him and refused to leave for Canaan. Moses persuaded God against immediate destruction; thus a brief period of time came about while the people waited to hear what God was going to do with them. In mourning, they refused to put on any ornaments of jewelry, as was their custom – both men and women. [i]

This led to the period of the “tent of meetings” where God had Moses pitch a tent a distance away from the camp (because of its sin). It became a transitional tabernacle where the presence of God dwelt. If anyone wanted to seek God, they went out of the camp to the “tent of meetings” to inquire. It was there where God spoke with Moses as a man speaks to a friend. When Moses went outside of the tent, the people arose to see what God had to say. When Moses returned back into the tent, a pillar of clouds descended and stood before its door. Joshua, military assistant to Moses, stood guard over the door to prevent anyone from entering. The people then returned to their own tents. In time, God renewed His covenant with Moses and the people and gave Moses instructions to hew two tables of stone (like the first) and go back up to the mountain. There Moses stayed for forty day while God renewed the covenant He had earlier done with him before the worshipping of the golden calf. When Moses came down from the mountain with the completed tablets, the people saw that his face shown with the glory of God. Moses then called Aaron and all of the rulers of the congregation to tell them what God had ordained. Of this provisional “tent of meetings” there were no rituals or priesthood, nor any command to give or tithe.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

The word “tabernacle” means “place of dwelling” or “sanctuary.” Giving evidence of His presence, the tabernacle was a place where the high priest, priests, Levites and the people came together to worship and offer sacrifices unto God. Using titles and practices of which the Israelites were familiar with in paganistic Egypt, God instituted the tabernacle and the priesthood, but this time it was for His purpose. One year after leaving Egypt, God gave directions for the “tabernacle in the wilderness” to be erected. God commanded Moses to take up an offering from among the people of those willing to give to the supplying of the tabernacle of God. Excess gold, silver, bronze, fabric, animal skins and hair came forth for supplies to where there was an overabundance and the people had to be restrained from giving. Skilled craftsmen came forth for the building of the structure, supplies, and utensils. God then gave Moses’ brother Aaron and his sons the responsibility to oversee the tabernacle as priests, with Aaron being the high priest. He also instituted that the tribe of Levi assist them in the operations of the tabernacle. The only funds that came forth during the forty years in the wilderness were from free-will offerings of the people. The time was about 1450 B.C.

The Levitical Priesthood in the Wilderness

Moses came from the tribe of Levi. As leader of the wandering Israelites, and directed by God, Moses, his family, and tribe would play a significant part in the development of the tabernacle, maintaining the sacrifices, feasts, and the worship unto God.

 High priest

God commissioned Aaron, brother and assistant to Moses, to be the high priest to the people. As high priest, he had the supervision over the other priests, seeing that all responsibilities were carried out (2 Chron 19:11). In accordance with the Jewish historian Josephus, the high priest could participate in all priestly ministries, but certain functions were given only to him, such as holding on to the Urim and the Thummin (dice-like stones to determine truth or falsity). All of Israel came to him to learn the will of God (Deut 33:8).

The high priest officiated every Sabbath, and on new moons, or other festivals in the course of the year. As such, he had the responsibility over the entire worship. The most important responsibility of the high priest, however, was to conduct the service on the Day of Atonement, which was the tenth day of the seventh month each year. On that day he alone entered the Holy Place inside the veil before God. Having made sacrifice for himself and the people, he brought the blood into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled it on the mercy seat. This he did to make an atonement for himself and the people for the sins committed during the year just ended (Ex 30:10; Lev 16)

The position of the high priest was so highly esteemed to where he maintained the supreme civil head over the Israelite nation. It was a lifetime position.


Moses’ sons were too young to serve as priests, so, under the command of God, according to Num 16, Moses chose Aaron’s sons to be priests under their father. They were to assist him in the duties of the tabernacle. The office of the priest was to be hereditary – consisting of only the Aaron lineage. As priests, they were primarily involved in the sacrificing at the altar and worship, as well as oversee the tabernacle. They lit the lamps in the sanctuary, offered sacrifice for their own sins, officiated in the most holy place once a year, officiated in the consecration of the Levites, and was judge and acted in an official capacity at many functions. They also inspected ceremonially unclean persons, adjudicated disputes, blessed the people, and instructed the people in the law of God. In addition, they were taught the law, preserving and transmitting it into the written Law, as Moses heard it from God, unto forms of clay or leather.

Levitical Priesthood

Upon the age of 25, the men from the tribe of Levi were commissioned and set apart unto holiness in the maintaining of the tabernacle in the wilderness. They served in the structure as assistants to the high priest and priests to take care of the daily functions of the tabernacle. When the tabernacle moved from place to place, as God directed, the Levitical priests dismantled and transported it, and reassembled it upon the arrival to its new destination. As the years continued in the wilderness, Moses’ sons, Kohath and Gershon continued in the Levitical line in the maintenance of the tabernacle. As an extension of Moses’ Levitical lineage, the tribes of Kohathites and Gershonites were established.

Tithing Was Not Required During the Wandering in the Wilderness

Tithing was not required during the wandering in the wilderness because the Israelites were nomads eating only manna and quail, which God rained down from heaven. Various sacrifices, however, were a fundamental function of Moses’ work to establish the covenant between Israel and God. These sacrifices of burnt, sin and peace offerings were brought by the heads of households to the brazen altar in which the priests received as a representative of sin, guilt, or peace offerings given to God. The Levitical priests were allowed to eat some of the sacrifices and a portion went to the priests and high priest. The primary support of Aaron, the priests, and the Levitical priesthood were supported by free-will offerings at this time. Any reference of tithing, as in Lev 27:30-34, Num 13:10-31, and in chapters 12, 13, and 26 of Deuteronomy are referring to tithing on the grain or animals of the land after entering and occupying the land of promise.

To continue on to section #5 on tithing, click here


[i] Dakes, Finis. Dakes Annotated Reference Bible. Dakes Bible Sales, Inc. Lawrenceville GA. 1963.


Written by Pastor Joyce A. Erickson

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