The Second Tithe
The concept of stewardship began at Eden where God defined the responsibility for human beings by using the Hebrew word radah (Gen. 1:26-30). This Word, translated as dominion, means to take care of, to direct, to manage. In the New Testament, the Greek word that describes similar responsibility for some to direct, manage or be in charge of the house of his master is oikonomía.
Israel’s system of tithes and offerings designed by God included three components: the first and second tithe and the offerings. The first tithe was to be used for the maintenance of the Levites and was administered by the Levites. The second tithe was intended to support the annual feasts and personal charity and was administered by the Hebrew family. Third, the offerings were part of the worship and support of the operation of the sanctuary. When the people of Israel gathered at Mount Sinai to receive instructions regarding civil, social, economic and religious issues, unlike today, there was no social security system.
Such laws applied to the first six years of the seven-year cycle during which crops were grown…”
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Roman imperial army during the Christian era, affected the religious practices of Judaism. Prior to the destruction of the temple, the Jewish people dedicated a first tithe for the support of the Levites (Lev. 27:30-34; Num. 18:19-28). They also dedicated a second tithe for charity and the annual feasts in Jerusalem (Deut. 14:22-29). “Such laws applied to the first six years of the seven-year cycle during which crops were grown…” (Geoffrey Wigoder, editor, The Encyclopedia of Judaism, p.707). Due to the Roman influence, various laws were no longer observed by Jews after the destruction of the second temple. The second tithe showed that generous consideration had to be given to the less fortunate.
The purpose of the second tithe as practiced in Old Testament times is explained by E.G. White in a discussion of “God’s Care for the Poor.” She draws attention to our responsibility to take care of the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the stranger just as Moses had instructed the Hebrew people.
“To promote the assembling of the people for religious service, as well as to provide for the poor, a second tithe of all the increase was required. Concerning the first tithe, the Lord had declared, ‘I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel.’ Numbers 18:21. But in regard to the second He commanded, ‘Thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.’ Deuteronomy 14:23, 29; 16:11-14. This tithe, or its equivalent in money, they were for two years to bring to the place where the sanctuary was established.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 530).
The second tithe was a blessing because it cultivated a noble spirit of benevolence. This is the very principle on which the offering system was founded. While there is no biblical support requiring a second tithe in the New Testament, the principle of benevolence can and should be adopted and adapted to our time.