God introduced the primacy of sacrifice from the time of our first parents. But, when he gave us his first priest, Melchizedek, he also introduced the tithe: “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” Gen 14:20.
A tithe is a religious offering of one-tenth of one’s harvest or income, paid either to a sanctuary or directly to its ministers.
Jacob, awakening from his dream at Bethel, “Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will give the tenth to you” Gen 28:20–22. Before, it was whatever a man wanted to sacrifice (Abel and Cain). Now God began to tell us how much to sacrifice.
The Torah required the lay tribes of Israel to pay tithes of their grain, wine, oil and livestock to the ministerial tribe of Levi. “And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD” Lev 27:32. “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they serve, their service in the tent of meeting” Num 18:21. It was given to the (non-priestly) Temple assistants, who in turn gave ten percent of it, “a tithe of the tithe” Num 18:26, to the Aaronic priests. The Levites received tithes as compensation for spiritual services for a steady food allowance. Levi was the only tribe in Israel that had no land inheritance in Canaan Josh 13:14 and therefore could not farm or ranch its own food.
After the Babylonian Exile, disregard for the tithe laws made it very difficult to sustain the Levites who had to live, whether or not the Second Temple was completed. Nehemiah strongly pushed for faithful tithing Neh 10:35–39. We know that the Jews paid him no heed, since God spoke through Malachi, accusing the Jews who withheld their tithes, “the whole nation of you” Mal 3:8–10, of robbing him.
In Rabbi Yeshua’s time, the Pharisees saw their strict observance of the Torah’s tithe laws as proof of their piety Lk 18:12, but Rabbi Yeshua rebuked them because they cultivated pride in their piety through the tithe while neglecting some of the most important matters, “justice and mercy and faith” Mt 23:23.