What did the ancient priests do with offerings and money taken to the temple?

Q.  What did the ancient priests do with offerings and money taken to the temple?

For the most part, the money and other offerings (animal sacrifices, grain, etc.) were used to fund the activities of Israel’s worship center, which was first the tabernacle and then the temple, and to provide a living for the priests and Levites who worked there.

(Although the tribe of Levi had no territorial inheritance within Israel, the Levites had their own individual homes where they lived when they weren’t on duty at the temple, and they worked the fields around them to provide some of their own support.  But when they were on duty, they were fed and clothed from the offerings that worshipers brought.  This was necessary to make up for their lack of a tribal territory.)

However, there was one other important way that these offerings were used.  The law of Moses also told the Israelites:

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

In other words, as I explain in my study guide to Deuteronomy and Hebrews, “every third year, the tithe [one tenth of the year’s produce] was gathered and stored locally to provide for the poor.  These were the food banks of ancient Israel.”

In the guide I then ask these group discussion questions:

• Should followers of Jesus today give a tenth of their income to God? If so, should they give all of it to their church, or can they also give some of it to help the needy?

• Are there food banks or soup kitchens in your community? Have any of your group members volunteered there? If so, ask them to share about their experiences. (Your group may wish to arrange a time to serve together at one of these places.)

We today can support a community life of worship and help those in need by emulating the generosity that is modeled for us in ancient Israel’s system of tithes and offerings.

Donations to a food pantry operated by an Episcopal church in San Francisco

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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