God spoke to Aaron once again during those trying 38 years of wandering. This time it was to remind him of several very important matters. One was the subject of tithing.
A tithe is a tenth part of anything, especially the tenth of one’s increase, whether it be in wage income, livestock or crops. A tenth part of anyone’s increase belongs to God. God uses it for His work. In Old Testament times the Levites did His physical work. So God paid them for their work by His tithes. This tithe, which is actually God’s became the only inheritance of the Levites, inasmuch as they were not to own farming land on which to earn an income. They were to live and carry on God’s work with this tenth, and in turn were to tithe a tenth of what they received from God by giving it to Aaron’s family, which held the high priesthood (Num. 18:8-32).
This was the simple but effective system God gave to the Israelites for financing God’s physical work and all things that had to do with the tabernacle. Today the tithe still belongs to God and He uses it for His work today, the preaching of the gospel. This doesn’t mean that present-day organizations falsely calling themselves Christian are to receive our tithes. They are not connected with God or the true Church of God’s spiritual work of preaching the gospel. The preaching of the gospel has replaced the physical duties of the Levites and tithes are to go only to those who represent it.
Ordinarily it would be a simple matter to figure what a tenth of money wages would be. But some might wonder how one whose increase was only a sheep would give a tenth of a sheep, or how one who had only a small garden would give a tenth of his crop. The answer is that the value of the sheep was determined and a tithe or tenth of the sheep was paid to God.
So often when the subject of tithing is brought up in these times, the same remark is heard: “If I gave a tenth of my income, my family would starve!”
People who carelessly make this remark do not realize that just the opposite is true. Perhaps most people don’t realize or appreciate that everything they think they possess is not really theirs. It is God’s. God merely allows them to use or enjoy it for a while. When we stop to consider this fact, isn’t it plain that the Creator is quite generous in requiring that we turn back only a tenth for financing His work?
The tithing law was not instituted for God’s benefit. He owns the world and everything in it (Ps. 24:1 and 50:10). God gave the tithing law for our good. Our responsibility for handling some of God’s money as His stewards helps us to learn to love others and enjoy giving. This develops in us God’s type of character and trains us for eternal life’s true riches (Luke 16:1-11).
To add to His generosity, God has made a sacred promise that He will increase our material wealth if only we are faithful in paying Him what we owe (Mal. 3:10-11). Can you imagine one person telling another that if he will pay what he owes that the creditor will see to it that the debtor will receive a large financial reward? That’s what God had told us, in so many words. Where can one find a better deal than that?
This doesn’t mean that others may not temporarily prosper who want to have no part of God and His laws. God is allowing many of them to have the good things only in this life – the only life some of them will ever have. Surely no wise person would want to be in the position of such people. It is far better to prosper in this life by God’s special blessing – plus living for forever by the gift of eternal life in surroundings and circumstances that would show worldly millionaires’ lives to be dull and miserable!
Have you ever noticed that some religious organizations who don’t believe in obeying God are often in such desperate need that they are forced to promote the principle of tithing? They use all sorts of arguments and ideas as to why people should tithe, but why they don’t need to keep the Ten Commandments. In most cases these arguments carefully avoid any mention of tithe as referred to in the Old Testament. There is seldom any reference to the reason why God established the tithe and when. That is because there is an increasing disbelief in the Old Testament. Yet they need money – and that is why they claim to teach tithing.
Those who claim that the Ten Commandments were cancelled by Christ’s death and are no longer in force can hardly be expected to point out that God commanded that tenth of everyone’s increase should go to God’s servants. If they did, that would contradict their teaching against God’s Ten Commandments.
God is the Author of tithing. It began long before the time of Moses. Abraham and Jacob paid tithes long before Moses’ time (Gen 14:18-20; Heb. 7:4-10; Gen. 28:20-22).
Many people who believe in giving a tenth of their increase made a practice of giving it to their favorite charities or needy families. Giving to those in need is good, but that first tenth is to go to no one except God (Mal. 3:10). The only way that is possible is to give it to the true representatives of God – those who are in God’s service in His work.
The next thirty-eight years after the Exodus were spent by the Israelites in wandering aimlessly and often miserably from place to place in the desert regions of the Sinai Peninsula west of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is a finger of the Red Sea bordering the east side of the peninsula.
There is little record in the Bible pertaining to where they camped and what they did throughout most of this time until more than a generation later – when they started back to the northeast on the same route they had taken right after they left Egypt.
During those thirty-eight years people died by the thousands of thousands. A whole new nation had grown up. During these thirty-eight years God was causing the deaths of all those men who complained when the scouts returned from searching Canaan. Only the children would be permitted to cross over Jordan into the Promise Land (Deut. 1:35-39). Several generations of livestock had long since died. Not all the older people had died since the Israelites had set out in their aimless wanderings, however. Some still living were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Caleb and Joshua.
Once more, after a lapse of nearly four decades, the tremendous caravan of millions moved up to the city of Kadesh, the rose-red city of rock from which the twelve scouts had been sent north to get a good look at Canaan. It must have been a sobering thought to the people that they were still many miles from Canaan after plodding about for most of thirty-nine years and looping around and around over the same country for thousands of miles. But they couldn’t rightly blame God for their misfortune. If they and those who had gone before had obeyed Him, they would have arrived in safety and prosperity in Canaan almost four decades sooner.
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron died right after Israel encamped at Kadesh the second time (Num. 20:1). She was about one hundred and thirty years of age at her death, and was buried in a high cliff area of Kadesh sometimes referred to as Petra.
When Israel had stayed at Kadesh the first time, there was plenty of water. Conditions changed in thirty-eight years, however. Some of the springs had dried up. Others couldn’t produce enough water to continue to provide for the vast needs of the Israelites and their livestock.
Shortly after Miriam’s death the water shortage became so serious that a loud, complaining crowd gathered around the tents of Moses and Aaron.
“We want water! We want water! We want water!” they chanted over and over for hours (Num. 20:2).
Moses and Aaron were accustomed to this sort of childish mob treatment. They hoped that the noisy crowd would tire and break up, but the situation grew worse. Fearing that violence might result, Moses asked Aaron to appear with him before the crowd.
When the people saw the two leaders standing before Moses’ tent, they broke into such a loud roar of discontent that Moses couldn’t make himself heard when he tried to address them. The roar finally died down, only to give way to loud accusations from leaders of the mob.
“Why have you dragged us here to die along with our livestock? One man screamed. “We would have been spared great misery if we had died with our brethren who died in God’s plagues years ago!”
“What is your reason,” someone else yelled, “for stopping in this rocky, sandy waste where no grass nor vine nor trees grow, and where there is only enough water to make death more painful and lingering” (vs. 3-5?
The crowd was angrier than Moses had realized. Officers hovered around to quell any outbreak of violence, but it was plain that the officers wouldn’t have been capable of managing the crowd if it were to break out in a rampage. There was only one thing to do. Moses seized Aaron’s arm and, accompanied by loud jeers and hoots from the crowd, the two of them hurried to the tabernacle.
As soon as they entered the sacred tent, a light came from the inner room. It became brighter and brighter as Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces to the ground and made their problem known to God (v. 6).
“Take the rod from here in the tabernacle and go with Aaron out to that high rock that is close to the camps,” God told Moses. “Call for the people to gather there to witness what will happen. Then speak to the rock, commanding it in My Name to give forth water. After you have done this, plenty of water will come out of the rock. There will be more than enough to take care of the needs of all the people and their animals” (vs. 7-8).
Moses took the rod – the one that had budded out to show that Aaron’s family should retain the priesthood – and set out with Aaron. It wasn’t difficult to attract a crowd. The murmuring mob was still milling about. It noisily followed Moses and Aaron, who were surrounded by a number of officers as they strode off to a certain tall rock that jutted up out of the sand close to the Israelites camp.
“I have become weary of this mob foolishness over the years,” Moses remarked to Aaron. “Again the people have gone too far with their threats and demonstrations. It is time we show them again what great power can come through us!”
“I agree,” Aaron answered, glancing uneasily at the mob that was closing clamorously in on them. “It would be wise to use the power through the rod more often to cause these trouble-makers to have more respect for us.”
This was a wrong attitude on the part of Moses and Aaron. They should have been more concerned with showing God’s power and causing the crowd to respect Him. Both men had been under more strain than usual because of the death of their sister and more complaints than usual from the people. As leaders, however, they were expected by God to exercise great control and wisdom under all circumstances.
This wrong attitude continued when Moses, standing with Aaron atop the rock God had indicated, looked down with disgust on the shouting crowd. He hoisted the famous rod as high as he could hold it until the people’s shouting and shrieking died down.
“Listen to me, you rebels!” Moses shouted. “You have been whining and complaining about a shortage of water. Why do you complain when you know we have the power to give you water? Don’t you know that we can cause this rock to open up and spew out all the water you need” (v. 10)?
The crowd became completely silent. Thousands upon thousands of eyes were focused on Moses as he stood there on the rock, plainly etched against the bright sky. The Israelite leader was in an increasingly bad mood as he thought of all the insolence and disobedience he had struggled through for years. Now he harbored a strong desire to once and for all stop their complaining by proving to them that he could, with the rod, perform any kind of miracle.
God had told Moses this time to speak to the rock, commanding it, through the power of the Creator, to give forth water. But instead of speaking to the rock, Moses spoke, unadvisedly and in anger, to the people (Ps. 106:32-33).
“You are only a howling mob undeserving of water!” Moses cried out. “Nevertheless, you shall receive it, if only to remind you that your demonstrations are childish!”
God had not instructed Moses to use the rod to strike the rock. It was to be carried by Moses and Aaron as a symbol of their Levitical authority in using God’s tremendous power. But Moses drew the rod back over his head and brought it down sharply on the rock. The crowd gazed in expectant silence as long moments passed. No water came out of the rock.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.