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Deuteronomy 14:28-29 NASB

“At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” ‭‭

What is the significance of the Israelites setting out all of their produce tithes at the end of every third year for the Levites and those in need? This doesn’t seem like a provision for the daily needs of these people since it’s only once every three years, so what is the significance of this specific offering?

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There is a difference of opinion as to whether this tithe in the third year is the same tithe as earlier in Deut 14, or a second tithe. Note the different opinions:

  • Ellicott: (28) At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth ail the tithe.—This is called by the Jews Ma’aser ‘Âni, “the poor’s tithe.” They regard it as identical with the second tithe, which was ordinarily eaten by the owners at Jerusalem; but in every third and sixth year was bestowed upon the poor.
  • Barnes: Compare the marginal references. The tithe thus directed in the third year to be dispensed in charity at home, was not paid in addition to that in other years bestowed on the sacred meals, but was substituted for it.
  • Poole: At the end of three years, i.e. in the third year, as it is expressed, Deu 26:12. So, in the end of three years, or of seven years, is the same with in the third or seventh year, as appears by comparing Deu 31:10 Joshua 9:16,17 2 Kings 18:9,10 17:6. All the tithe of thine increase. I join with those expositors who make this the same tithe with the former, Deu 14:22, as being called by the same title without any distinction between them, save only as to the place of eating them. See Poole "Deu 14:22", and See Poole "Deu 12:17".

Regardless of which view one adopts, it was one of the many features of the Israelite economy that provided for the poor and homeless. The gleaning laws illustrated by the story of Ruth (Ruth 2) was another such provision.

The reason or function of the three year period is a mystery - why this should not have not been every year i can only surmise; however, it is like that it was to prevent entrenched laziness in poverty.

All the "poor" laws in Israel, such as the gleaning laws, the generous lending laws, land law and inheritance laws operated continuously. Therefore, I assume that every third year provided a small luxurious boost for the one month for the poor.

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Social Welfare Program God loves people! And the underprivileged, widowed, handicapped, orphaned, etc. are dear to his heart. Remember that Jesus (God) came to heal all manner of sickness among the people. And that the poor should be remembered in the Mosaic code was a given.

There were other laws ministering to the underprivileged; for example the "Gleaners Laws." The leftover crops, dropped sheaves, and second grape pickings were to be left for them. So the poor had food each year. But on top of this, there was the poor tithe, where more food could be available for storage, etc. Note that even if there were a drought or plague, the poor would still have the same food available as the common folk. (Hopefully the poor did not constitute more than 10% of the population.)

Henry Lansdell wrote a volume on The Sacred Tithe researching the practice of tithing from ancient times to modern times. In chapter three he explored "Israel's Three Tithes." They were the (a) income tithe, (b) festival tithe, and (c) poor tithe. The poor tithe was required every three years. And this practice showed that, as a nation, the poor were to be taken care of adequately.

So the poor tithe was not just "tokenism" on the part of the Jewish nation. It was part and partial of the whole social welfare system. Along with this note the many times in the Old Testament that "giving to the poor" was enjoined as a requirement for God's blessing. He who gives to the poor loans to God! (Proverbs) And God gives good interest on such investments!

The poor, under the New Covenant were also to be taken care of:

  • Matthew 11:5 The poor have the Gospel preached to them.
  • Luke 14:13 When you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.
  • Galatians 2:10 We should remember the poor.
  • James 2:5 Hath not God chosen the poor of this world...heirs of the Kingdom...

Both the Israelites in the Old Testament, and the the Messianic Jews under the New Covenant, were cognizant of the needs of the poor in their society---and took care of them. The deliberate legislation of a tithe for the poor was demonstrative of this.

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