Avram's tithe is the first use of ma'aser, and it is found in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis:
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people. Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of G-d Most High. He blessed him and said,"Blessed be Abram of G-d Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be G-d Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand. He gave him a tenth of all. The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself." Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD G-d Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, 'I have made Abram rich.' I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share." (Genesis 14:14-24)
First, let's consider this bit of Scriptural history in a practical manner: If you were to ride out in hot pursuit of an army which has taken a close family member captive (verse 14) would you take:
- all of your sheep and goats
- all of your personal belongings
- all of your grain and vegetables
- all of the above
- none of the above
Take your time...
There is no rush...
The correct answer is (e).
A person not likely pack up their entire camp (taking a day or two) and start traveling at the pace of the slowest animal in their herd. They would go armed for battle and move fast and light in an attempt to overtake the enemy. So what is the "all" from which the tenth came in verse 20? See verse 16: "He brought back all the goods..."
These were not Avram's personal possessions. Rather, they were the goods of S'dom recovered after the battle. Note that Avram refused to accept any of the goods for himself (verses 22-24) and did not consider them his property even though he had captured them as a result of his victory.
Please note that this is a unique event in the whole of Scripture. Avram gave a tenth of the spoils of one battle. His tithe is not something G-d commanded Avram to do.
Is this isolated and unique event related to the tithing that is required by G-d elsewhere in Scripture? There is no connection between the two beyond the fact that that the same Hebrew word "ma'aser" (i.e. a tenth) is used. Considering the "law of first mention", it is interesting that this is the first time the word ma'aser is used in Scripture. It is also intriguing that Avram gave this tenth as a freewill offering outside of any covenantal requirement.
Those who promote tithing today will often point to Avram and claim "Abram tithed before the Law of Moses. Tithing predates the Law. Therefore, tithing still applies to us today." Using this logic, they require believers to tithe, but they don't use the same reasoning to Avram's burnt offerings and require them as well. How odd.
Avram's tenth was:
- Taken from goods captured in battle- not his personal belongings
- Given to one particular person: Melchizedek
- Not commanded but a freewill offering
- A unique example from Scripture
Let's see what else Scripture says about tithing. The next individual mentioned in regards to tithing is another Patriarch: Ya'akov.