PRE-CODIFICATION OF THE LAW
Abram (Genesis 14:17-20)
17And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. 18And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 19And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Abram gave a tithe, or one-tenth, of everything he had to Melchizedek, king of Salem. So if Abram had 600 sheep, 450 cows, 316 goats and 800 pieces of silver, Abram gave Melchizedek 60 sheep, 45 cows, 31.6 goats and 80 pieces of silver. “Giving” is the verb, “tithe” is a quantity. Who commanded, or told, Abram to do it? As far as we know, nobody. How many times did he do it? As far as we know, this was a one-time-deal. Why did he do it? To bless “the most high God.” This was his grateful response to the Lord blessing Him, not as a part of a covenantal relationship, to fulfill a commandment, to incur blessing or prevent consequences.
Abram didn’t tithe; Abram gave!
Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22)
10And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. 11And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
16And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 17And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 20And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
In Genesis 28:22 the same word used above as “tithe” is translated “tenth.” In response to the promises of the Lord, Jacob makes up his own covenant. Even though God never asked for it, Jacob says that if God will take care of him, and bless him, he will, when he has arrived safely home again, give Him a tenth of everything he has. This reveals more the difficulty Jacob had in receiving unconditionally from God rather than a reflection of God’s heart and intentions toward him.
God never told Jacob to do anything! Nonetheless, Jacob made a vow, that at some point in time he would give a tenth of everything God blessed him with back to Him. We have no record of his carrying out the “giving” part, though God certainly blessed Him as He had said.
Summary of the Tithe before the Law was Written Down
1. In both of these instances, God never commanded anyone to “tithe.” There was no covenant. Later, God did indeed make a covenant with Abram; God made many promises to Abram and his successive generations. All Abram had to do was circumcise his sons.
2. The law had yet to be codified (written down). This is significant because it means that neither Abram nor Jacob were following guidelines previously given by God. These events were “outside” or “before” the law was given.
3. Neither Abram nor Jacob tithed; Abram gave (freely), and Jacob promised to give, if God did what He had already unconditionally promised to do. There were no consequences tied to either one of them NOT GIVING!