Did Jacob Tithe?
By: Garry D. Pifer
Presented By: The Master's Table


In a recent essay a long-time elder in the Church of God wrote, in speaking of Jacob, "His attitude was: 'Of all that You will give me from this day forward, I will surely give the tenth to You.'" Did Jacob tithe from "this day forward?" The same author says, speaking of Jacob, and I quote, "But he does say, 'From now on I will tithe; I will give the tenth of all that I possess." Did Jacob say that? Did he tithe on all that he possessed from that day on? Let's study the account being referred to. It's recorded for us in Genesis 28.

Before we turn to this chapter and begin our study let us review just who Jacob was. Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when she was long past the childbearing years, a direct miracle from God. The Scriptures tell us that Abraham was one hundred years old and that Sarah was ninety when Isaac was born. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. However, Rebekah was barren. Isaac intreated God on behalf of his wife and God heard his prayer. When Isaac was sixty years old the twins were born. When Isaac was "old" (Gen. 27:1), somewhere over one hundred years old, he called Esau to himself and asked for "savoury meat" that he might eat it and then bless Esau. We are familiar with the deceit that Jacob and his mother worked to get Isaac's blessing upon Jacob.

We now come to chapter 28 of Genesis. In the last verses of chapter 27 Rebekah tells Isaac that she is wearied because of the women Esau had married and expresses her concern that Jacob might follow suit. Isaac called Jacob to him and commanded him not to take a wife from the daughters of the people of the land of Canaan. He instructed him to go to Padanaram, to the family of his grandfather, Bethuel, and to take a daughter of his uncle Laban to be his wife.

In verses three and four we read something very interesting. Isaac pronounces a blessing upon Jacob, almost word for word what had been promised and re-promised to Abraham and to Isaac. There is no indication that Jacob found this strange or something new. Undoubtedly he had heard this repeated over and over in the more than forty years of his life. He knew of the Lord's appearance to Abraham, the promise given to him, the covenant He made with him. Jacob knew that the Lord had also appeared to his own father, Isaac, and had reaffirmed the promises to him. He had been told repeatedly of those promises and of the covenant God and
Abraham had made. In fact, he daily was reminded of this in his own flesh, because of the token of that covenant, circumcision. (Gen. 17:10-11)

So the words of the promise from God rang in his ears as he left home to journey to Padanaram. In verses 6 through 9 we read a bit of a side story. Isau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob. He saw that Isaac had sent Jacob to the land of his grandfather to get a wife, of how his own wives taken from Canaan was a very evil thing in the eyes of Isaac. He took another wife, a daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son. Verse 10 brings us back to the story of Jacob.

As he was on his way toward Haran, as evening came on, he came to a place that was called Luz before being renamed. (Verse 19) Since the sun had set Jacob prepared to spend the night. He gathered some stones and using them for pillows he lay down to sleep. Verse 12 tells us that as he slept he dreamed, a dream that came from God. He saw a ladder or stairway set up on earth and the top of it reached unto heaven. He saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Then in verse 13 God begins to speak to him. Let's note what God says to him. " 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; And 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. And, 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."

Much of what God told him had been spoken to Abraham and to Isaac. However some was specifically directed to Jacob. The promise of the land had been central to all repetitions of the promise. Also, the seed being as the dust of the earth, to multiple throughout the earth was well known. And, the specific statement, which we have understood to be prophetic of Jesus Christ, that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed had been stated over and over. But, God did personalize the promises, making very detailed and specific personal promises to Jacob. He told Jacob that He would be with him wherever he went. He also promised him that He would bring him back to "this land." God promised that He would not leave Jacob until He had done what He spoke there to him.

When Jacob woke up, verse 16, he deeply grasped that God was present in that place and he had not been aware of it. It shook him up, as we would say. Verse 17 says, "And he was afraid." He recognized that this place was, at least to him, the very dwelling place of God and the gateway to heaven. As soon as day began to break, early in the morning, Jacob arose and took the stones he had been using as pillows and set them us as pillars. He poured oil upon them and called the place Bethel, meaning, the House of God.

Then we come to verse 20. "And Jacob vowed a vow,..."In many articles, booklets and writings of various authors this is not noted. It is often stated that Jacob "promised." However, the original indicated the translation to be correct, Jacob vowed a vow. Let's note what Vine's
Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words has to say.

"The vow has two basic forms, the unconditional and the conditional. The unconditional is an 'oath' where someone binds himself without expecting anything in return. (Psa. 116:14) The obligation is binding upon the person who has made a 'vow.' The word spoken has the force of an oath which generally could not be broken: (Num. 30:2) The conditional 'vow' generally had a preceding clause before the oath giving the conditions which had to come to pass before the 'vow' became valid: (Gen. 28:20-22). 'Vows' usually occurred in serious situations. Jacob needed the assurance of God's presence before setting out for Padan-aram (Gen. 28:20-22); ...

Though conditional 'vows' were made out of desperation, there is no question of the binding force of the 'vow.'... First a 'vow' is always made to God.... Second, a 'vow' is made voluntarily. It is never associated with a life of piety or given the status of religious requirement in the Old Testament. Third, a 'vow' once made must be kept. One cannot annul the 'vow.'"

The vow that Jacob makes is a conditional vow. Notice what he says. "If." He is negotiating with God. And, he begins by mentioning the personal, specific promises God has made to him, not the major promises that had been repeated over and over and that were well known by all in the family. First he says, "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, so that I come again to my father's house in peace..." He specifically mentioned what God had promised in verse 15 above. Notice again, "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,..."

Continuing with the vow he is making, verse 21, Jacob says "If" you do all of this (which we just listed) "then shall the Lord be my God:" He knew of God. He knew that He was the God of Abraham and Isaac. He was vowing to develop that same close, intimate relationship they had with God. He continues his vow, "And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house:" It is interesting to note the things Jacob vows to do. He should have been desirous of developing the close personal relationship with God, whether He bestowed those promises or not. But, declaring the stone he had set up, as God's house, seems to be an idea that Jacob came up with on his own. We find no similar instance recorded in the Bible.

But, now let's notice the last part of Jacob's vow, the last part of verse 22, "and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee." It was very clear that in the first part of his vow he was concentrating on the very specific and personal promises God had made. Here we see Jacob directing his vow toward the first part of God's promises, verse 13, where God addresses what He will give to Jacob and to his descendants. "The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;"

Hopefully, we can see that Jacob made a conditional vow to God to do three specific things upon God's fulfillment of His promises. The first two, a personal relationship with God and declaring the stone as God's house, were directly dealing with the very personal and specific promises God made toward Jacob relative to his journey. The third thing was to "give the tenth unto thee" of "all that thou shalt give me." This clearly is in reference to the promise of the land being given to him and his descendants.

Since "the land" was central to the promise God made and to the vow Jacob was making it is very important that we understand exactly what God is promising. Let's notice what the Scriptures tell us. Genesis 12:7 "Unto thy seed will I give this land:..." Where was Abraham when God made this statement? Notice verse 5, "...and into the land of Canaan they came."
Genesis 13:15 "For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." What land was Abraham seeing? Verse 12 says, "Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan,..." Verse 17 God instructs Abraham to "Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee."

Genesis 15:7 "And he said unto him, I [am] the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." In verse 18 God gets very specific as to what land He is speaking of. "In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the Euphrates:..."

Genesis 17:8 makes it very clear as to what land God is promising. "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." There are additional scriptures prior to the promise being made to Jacob and numerous ones afterward that spell out quite clearly that the "land of promise" was Canaan.

The Hebrew word translated "land" in all of these verses is erets, #0776 in Strong's. It is used in some areas to indicate the whole earth, in others a country or territory or district or region. One of the definitions is "land of Canaan, Israel."

When we look at the clear scriptures of God we should have no doubts in our minds that the promise God made to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob was the land of Canaan. (As an aside, I have to disagree with the statement one individual made in an article published many years ago. He stated in speaking of tithing, "They are commanded to be kept in the land which God promised to Israel {Deut. 12}. We today are in part of that land which God promised Israel. We therefore are to observe these things!" I do not live in Canaan, the land that God promised.)

When God said in the dream of Jacob's ":the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;" it was very understandable to Jacob. He knew what land was being referred to. There was no confusion in his mind in that regard. But in a casual reading of the verses we might think Jacob wasn't hearing some of the rest of God's promise. In verse 15 of Genesis 28 God says, "and will bring thee again into this land;..."Jacob responds in verse 21, "So that I come again to my fathers house in peace;..."When we check the Hebrew we find that the word God used in verse 15 for "land" is a different word. It is adamah, #0127 in Strong's. Notice the definitions of this word.

1) ground, land
1a) ground (as general, tilled, yielding sustenance)
1b) piece of ground, a specific plot of land
1c) earth substance (for building or constructing)
1d) ground as earth's visible surface
1e) land, territory, country
1f) whole inhabited earth
1g) city in Naphtali

Notice that in some usages it means a specific piece of ground and it can refer to a specific territory or country. Clearly God is referring to the very area in which Jacob was at the moment. But, why then does Jacob respond by saying "to my father's house?"

The Hebrew word translated "house" is bayith, #01004 in Strong's. Most times it is used it is referring to a house, a dwelling or shelter. It can refer to an entire household. I'd like to have you notice the definition as given in Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. "bayit (1004), 'house or building; home; household; land.'" It can refer to the "land." Vine's says later, "In a few passages bayit means 'territory' or 'country':..." So, Jacob wasn't "confused." He was responding to God by saying, if I might paraphrase, "So that I come again to this land, this territory, to this promised home of my father in peace;..."

Before we can answer the questions we asked in the very beginning of this article we need to determine when the promises of God were received and when Jacob fulfilled the vow he made to God. The vow as we pointed out was conditional and it was a three part vow. We will see from the scriptures that God did not give all of the promises at one time nor did Jacob pay all of the parts of his vow at one time.

Following the making of the vow to God recorded in Genesis 28 we read the story of Jacob going on to Padanaram where he worked for his uncle Laban in exchange for his wives, Rachel and Leah. We are familiar with the story of the wrong woman being given to him, the numerous times Laban changed Jacob's wages, etc. He spent 20 years with Laban, 14 serving for his wives and 6 for the livestock. His wages were changed 10 times. (Gen. 31:41) After these 20 years he began his journey back to "his father's house," to the land his family was residing in. On the way he had to cross the land his brother Esau occupied. In fear of what his brother might do to him he appealed to God for His help. We read his prayer in Genesis 32:9-12. He reminded God of some of the promises He had made. Following this prayer Jacob prepared great presents for Esau and sent some of his servants off to meet Esau. He then took his wives, their servants and his eleven sons and passed over the "ford Jabbok" and sent them on over the brook. (Gen. 32:22-23)

Jacob was left alone. An event occurred which we may not totally understand. It says "and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." (Gen. 32:24) Jacob recognized that he was wrestling with God. He says in verse 30 of this chapter, "I have seen God face to face..." This event was Jacob's "conversion" if you will. His name was changed by God to Israel, meaning a prince of God. Following this event we find that Jacob and Esau were successfully reunited without the dire consequences that Jacob had feared. Jacob journeyed on to Succoth, built a house and "booths" for his cattle. (Gen. 33:17) Following this he "came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram..." (Vs. 18) He bought a parcel of a field and erected an altar and called it Eleloheisrael, God the God of Israel. Chapter 34 gives us the story of his daughter Dinah and the slaying of Hamor and Shechem.

Now in chapter 35 we see some very interesting details. In verse 1 God tells Jacob to go up to Bethel, to dwell there and to make an altar to God. Jacob told his entire household to put away the "strange gods" that were among them. Verse 3 confirms that God had answered part of his promise He made to Jacob, that we read in Genesis 28. "And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." Let's review again that particular promise, Genesis 28:15. "And, 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." Jacob confirms that God has been with him and has brought him back to Canaan.

Jacob then journeyed to "Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel,..."Remember this is where God appeared to him in a dream and made the promises to him. (Gen. 28:19) Verse 7 of chapter 35 says that Jacob built an altar there and called the place Elbethel, the God of Bethel. Verse 9-13 tells of the event we read in chapter 32, God appearing to Jacob again as he came out of Padanaram and blessing him, of changing his name to Israel, rehearsing the first part of His promise to Jacob.

Notice verses 14-15. " 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. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel."

I believe it is very clear that Jacob had fulfilled 2 parts of his 3 part conditional vow. God had been with him and had brought him back to the "land." He had now made the Lord his God. He had returned to Bethel, which is "house of God." He had built an altar, set up a pillar of stone and poured upon in a drink offering and oil.

But, what about the central part of God's promise which had been made to Abraham, repeated to Isaac and to Jacob, the promise of the "land?" Jacob was in the land now, the land of Canaan, but he had not been given the land, he had not inherited it. As we just read in Genesis 35:11-12 God had repeated that part of His promise. Notice again verse 12, "And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land." It was still future. It was still promised to be given to Jacob and his seed. When did God finally give Jacob and his seed "the land?" When they finally crossed over the Jordan after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Let's notice just a few verses out on many.

Exodus 33:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, [and] go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:

Deuteronomy 1:8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.

Deuteronomy 8:1 All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.

Deuteronomy 11:8 Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go to possess it;

Deuteronomy 11:9 And that ye may prolong [your] days in the land, which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey.

Deuteronomy 11:31 For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.

There are many more very clear scriptures showing that the promise God had made was not fulfilled until the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and took possession of the land of Canaan. The final and third part of Jacob's vow, "... and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" would not have become valid and binding until this time. When we review God's instructions regarding tithing found in Leviticus 27 it is so clear. He is giving instructions regarding payment of vows in this chapter. He tells them the tenth, the tithe of the land, that Jacob had vowed to give to God was "holy to the Lord." (Lev. 27:30) It is revealed in the book of Numbers that the tribe of Levi was to receive the tithe as wages for their service in the tabernacle. They were not to receive a portion of land, an inheritance, as the other tribes.

As we conclude let us review again the statements we quoted from the essay of a long-time elder in the Church of God and answer the questions we asked. He made a statement in speaking of Jacob, "His attitude was: 'Of all that You will give me from this day forward, I will surely give the tenth to You.'" We asked, "Did Jacob tithe from 'this day forward?'"
There is no statement in the Bible to tell us that he ever tithed. He did vow to God to give a tenth, to tithe of all that God would give him, the land. That land was not given until the seed of Jacob entered Canaan several hundred years later.

The author of the essay also said, speaking of Jacob, "But he does say, 'From now on I will tithe; I will give the tenth of all that I possess.'" This statement is not found in the Bible!

We can, with Scriptural authority, answer our primary question, "Did Jacob Tithe?" We have seen from the Biblical account that Jacob vowed to God to give a tenth of what God was promising him and his seed, which was the land of Canaan. We have also seen that the promise was not given to Jacob during his lifetime. Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, speaking of Abraham, says in verse 9, "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:" Then in verse 13 it states, "These all died in the faith, not having received the promises,..."(Verse 16 says that they "now desire a better country, that is, an heavenly:")

No, Jacob never tithed as a requirement of his vow--he could not have done so since the conditions were never met during his lifetime. Did he give offerings to God otherwise? Very probably so, although we aren't told how or when. We aren't told if Melchizedec was still on the scene or if there was anyone else to receive offerings. From the scriptures we see God communicating with Jacob in a dream, appearing and wrestling with him as a man. Genesis 35:1 says, "And God said unto Jacob,..."indicating a personal manner of communication. No mention is made of any person serving as a "go between" or spokesperson for God. And the only offering we see that Jacob made to God was a "drink offering." (Gen. 35:14) It is possible, and probable, that he may have offered burnt offerings to God. He had Abraham's example (review the story of Isaac being offered) and we know that he erected an altar in Shalem, a city of Shechem. (Gen. 33:18-20) If Jacob gave to God in any other way it isn't stated in the Bible. And, if he did, we are not told of any percentage he may have chosen to give. Whatever it might have been it was not a stipulation of his vow to God. Of a surety it would have been given cheerfully from a willing heart. After all that is what God loves. (II Cor. 9:7)