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In Genesis 28:22 Jacob makes a vow including a promise to give God a tenth (tithe) of whatever God gives to Jacob. Earlier we see Abraham give his tenth to the high priest of Salem, Melchizedek. And later, of course, a tithe is given to the Levites. But how was Jacob to give a tithe to God since there were no priests yet in his day?

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If there was a priest in Abraham's day (Melckizedek), why assume there was not one in Jacob's day? – user2027 Sep 24 '13 at 20:18
Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. – user2027 Sep 24 '13 at 22:18
While I agree with both Sarah and gideon marx, we have to note that God had just promised Jacob and his descendants the land he was lying on. Therefore a tenth of the land would have been part of the vow. It was not until centuries later did Jacob through his descendants possess the land so God can then demand the tithe as a debt payable. This is the reason God considered the tithe as a vow (Lev 27). – user3942 Apr 16 '14 at 20:53

It seems likely that Jacob would have given the tithe to God as a burnt offering. In the modern world, we are accustomed to thinking of tithes in terms of currency, but in the ancient Near East, the tithe came from the produce of the land:

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.

Deut. 14:22-23 (ESV)

Specifically, in Jacob's case, his wealth is in the form of flocks. We see in Genesis 30-31, that God conspires against Laban to increase the wealth of Jacob by making Jacob's flocks grow. And it is from these flocks that he would have tithed. The customary way of doing so was through making an offering. We've seen already in Genesis the example of Abel in this regard:

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.

Gen. 4:2-4 (ESV)

While Abram did give the tithe to Melchizedek, Abel and the Patriarchs in Genesis are shown having unmediated access to bring offerings before God (cf. Gen. 35:14). Given that in making his vow Jacob builds an altar, this is likely the means by which he intends to give a tenth to God.

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You've been thinking about this one a while. :) On the line you take here, see also the 4th edition of Franz Delitzsch's Genesis commentary, p. 167 (1889), and the cross-reference to Leviticus 27:30-33 in particular. – Davïd Mar 22 '15 at 16:54

Tithe is not limited to giving to the Levites and not only priests received tithe. Deuteronomy 14: 28 - 29 talks about the 'poor tithe'. It is more likely that Jacob started giving to the poor than looking for Melchizedek. After the destruction of the Temple, tithe went to the poor as it must have been in the time before the priesthood.

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Before we can determine just how Jacob would pay his tithes, we have to examine the entire context of the passage.(Gen. 28:17-22)

And 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. 18 And 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. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 20 And 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, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And 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

Jacob sets his head down in a particular place, upon a rock, and he discovers that God is in this place and angels are ascending and descending. He then declares,"

And 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(Gen. 28:17)

So the context is the House of God, which would become the physical Temple. It is to the Temple that the tithes are paid; and where the storehouse is kept.(Mal. 3:10)

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Jacob's vow must be understood as more than an obligation: it is the promise of blessing that a Covenant God made with Abraham, confirmed through Isaac, and now he was the next in line to whom "All the families of the earth will be blessed".(Gen. 12:3)

The tithe is to be understood as part of our worship (Gen. 14:20),

And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all

Following Jacob's vow, he departed for Syria, where Laban, the brother of Rebecca his mother was. And after he came back, he was reminded by God of his vow(Gen 35:1), and he built an altar (Gen.35:3) :

And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel

The tithe is the physical action in our worship to God, in honor of His Blessing and Provision in our lives. It doesn't exist as a separate act, but it is part of our response to God. That is why the tithes were to be "brought to the storehouse"(Mal. 3:10), it is the place in the Temple where the tithes were kept and to be distributed.

Jacob's act of building an altar, and later, pouring out offerings and making sacrifices on that altar, are a precursor to the "tithes" he would pay through his children, and later, his children by faith-who "rest" upon the Rock that Jacob had lain his head.


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