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Poor tithe
Magazine Article

The Poor Tithe—A Riddle

How did an ancient law, coupled with a commentary that expounded upon it, fleshed out in a 21st-century novel, and obeyed by a faithful Christian woman (who had read said commentary and novel), end up being the answer to a young man’s and his mother’s prayers?

Andrea Schwartz
  • Andrea Schwartz,
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How did an ancient law, coupled with a commentary that expounded upon it, fleshed out in a 21st century novel, and obeyed by a faithful Christian woman (who had read said commentary and novel), end up being the answer to a young man’s and his mother’s prayers?

Let me start from the beginning. God’s law outlines the requirement that the people of God pay God the taxes He requires. I say taxes rather than tax because Scripture outlines three taxes or tithes. Most are familiar with the Levitical tithe as the 10% requirement. What many don’t realize is that this 10% was to cover the areas of health, education, and welfare. Received by the Levites, they in turn, gave a tenth of it to the priests for the administration of the temple. This is not commonly known among believers, but it truly addresses the responsibility of the people of God to deal with these areas that have been taken over by the state. Much can and has been written on this topic, and I direct your attention to the book, The Institutes of Biblical Law.1

This Levitical tithe is the first of three that the Bible commands. The second tithe surprises many because it commands those who give it to use it for their rejoicing before the Lord. In Biblical times, the Israelites would go to Jerusalem for yearly feasts/festivals or celebrate where they lived. God commands His people to take time to reboot and be refreshed in order to be better able to serve and enjoy Him.

The third tithe is often referred to as the poor tithe.2 This was to be a personal gift to a needy person or family. Instead of the impersonal nature of statist welfare, the giver and the recipient were to have face-to-face contact. This tithe was to be distributed every third and sixth year of the sabbatical or seven-year cycle.3 The intent was to help someone who needed a boost, to use the funds and financial assistance to capitalize them in order to help move them out of a condition of poverty or need. Again, many believers don’t practice this nor are they even aware of the requirement in Scripture to do so.

So, I have answered the first two parts of my riddle. The third part comes from Martin Selbrede’s novel Hidden in Plain Sight, which tells the story of a young woman, Jenna, who has discovered a scientific application that could change the course of history. First introduced in her thesis at Stanford University, the entire idea was shot down by the academic review committee, knowing that her idea had merit, but they were uninterested in it getting any traction. In the process of being betrayed by those who should have applauded her efforts, and getting on the wrong side of the U.S. government, she encountered a wealthy man who, working to rectify his part in the injustice she suffered many years prior, erased her significant debt. In the process, he educated her about the Biblical requirement to distribute a portion of her benefit by way of the tithe. In explaining the poor tithe to a needy person, he shared with Jenna:

“You’ll be tempted to split the poor tithe because you’ll feel guilty you can’t relieve all the suffering in the world. If you tried to help a quarter million people, they’d each get about a dollar. That won’t help them, and you’ll still feel guilty. You need to see past the deception your guilt imposes on you. Because your income happens to be large, the tithe to the poor will also appear huge. If everyone with average incomes obeyed this law, we’d abolish poverty altogether. People are guilty who fail in this; the Scripture calls it grinding the faces of the poor. “So, he concluded, “you will help just one person. Your choice is strictly voluntary, up to you. You’re doing no wrong in passing by or not choosing others, because God alone has a claim on that money.”
“Give it all to only one?” She still had a hard time understanding this idea. It seemed inherently unfair, but she realized he was prompting her to take off the distorted moral glasses she’d been wearing since birth.
“Jenna,” he looked her straight in the eye, using her first name, “God moves one person at a time. In this matter, He does not deal with classes or groups. Groups and classes resent this. Jesus generated intense hostility when He pointed out that God bypassed the widows of Israel to help only one widow from Zarephath, had bypassed the lepers of Israel to heal one leper from Syria. That hostility against God working one person at a time lives on today. You must see this with new eyes. You must learn to work with one person at a time. You must make it personal.”
He had then leaned in closer toward her. “That,” he added with emphasis, “is because God, unlike the state, is not impersonal. There’s nothing more personal than God, and His image bearers have no business being impersonal or institutional in dealing with the poor.”
And Jenna had experienced the guiltless joy of visualizing the release from miserable poverty that one family would enjoy because Jenna had honored the ultimate law the Creator had laid down.
God moves one person at a time. The ultimate law of mercy.4

Now to address the next part of my initial riddle. Lynora (a friend and sister in Christ) having learned of the relevant Scripture in the pertinent parts of Institutes of Biblical Law, and having read Hidden in Plain Sight, became convinced that she needed to distribute her poor tithe (something she had never done before) after she had come into a sizeable amount of money as a result of the sale of her home.

This is how I entered the story and had the privilege of being a part of it. When she asked me for ideas as to how to find a suitable candidate, I was able to share with her the times my husband and I had given to people in need from our poor tithe. One time it helped pay for necessary medication for someone who could not afford it. Another time it paid for labor and delivery expenses for a foreign missionary. And it had also been used in the past to pay tuition for a number of young people so they could participate in an online academy, and for others to attend summer Christian conferences. Lynora asked me to help her find someone who wanted a Christian education but could not afford one.

I went to work, visiting Christian schools in the area (during their open houses) and determining whether or
not any of them would be suitable places for the funds to be allocated. After finding one such school, I got in touch with families I knew to see if they were interested. For one reason or another, I wasn’t getting any takers. Then, I asked one of the administrators of the school I thought was worth supporting (due to their commitment to transmit a Biblical world and life view to their students) if she knew of a would-be student or family who valued a Christian education but were unable to afford one. At first she said she was drawing a blank. However, right before my eyes I could see that God brought someone to mind. She said, “I know of a young man who is just the sort of person you have described. His mother has been trying her best to find a way that he could come to our school.”

As it turns out, this woman, the mother of four boys, did the janitorial work at the church the school is attached to. She and her husband weren’t able to come up with the amount needed to send even one of their boys to private school, even with the half scholarship that the school was willing to offer. They had a special burden for one of their sons, Christian, who had regularly expressed a desire to attend this particular school. The parents recognized the gifting and sobriety God had given their son, but continually felt as though they were failing him. His mother could see that her son had a genuine love for the Lord, a love for learning, and his unrealized potential was burdening her.

Fast forward to the meeting where Lynora (the donor), Christian and his family (the recipients), the school vice-principal, and I all sat to discuss Lynora’s willingness to pay for his entire high school career, 9th through 12th grade tuition and fees. I spent some time explaining the concept of the poor tithe to them and how it was supposed to be personal. I also pointed out that although it was understandable that the family would be grateful for the choice that Lynora had made in selecting them to receive this benefit, that it was God’s money and the praise and glory should go to Him. To keep things personal, Lynora plans to be a part of this family’s life on a regular basis, keeping up with how Christian is doing.

At the close of our meeting, Mom smiled, Dad beamed, and Christian was somewhat in shock. I sat back and considered how God’s plan had unfolded. An ancient law, expounded by a theologian, and put into an engaging story had prompted a believer to fulfill her obligation to the law of God. As Lynora and Christian posed for a joint picture, Christian’s mother confided to me that the night before she received the call from the school administrator to introduce the idea of her son’s four-year high school tuition and fees being offered, she had gone to the Lord promising that she would no longer be anxious for her son’s future and placed her and his desires completely into God’s hands, trusting Him for the result. Little did she know that her faithful prayer would be answered so immediately.

I ask you: What would be the result, if the Body of Christ took it upon itself to learn, apply, and teach how God’s economy deals with the needs of health, education, welfare, and relieving poverty, and replaced the state as the inadequate substitute that it is? I can tell you from first, and now, third hand experience, that the joy and sense of fulfillment would be sufficient to fuel a social revolution that would return the church to the main manifestation of pure and undefiled religion:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27).

If you are interested in assistance with how you might best distribute your poor tithe, contact me at [email protected]

1. R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2020).

2. See Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 16:12-15.

3. See Tithing and Dominion (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1979), p. 119.

4. Martin G. Selbrede, Hidden in Plain Sight (Vallecito, CA: Storehouse Press, 2010), pp. 218-219.

Andrea Schwartz
  • Andrea Schwartz

Andrea carries out a number of administrative duties at Chalcedon, putting much attention on promoting Chalcedon through social media and conferences. A main focus includes her direction of the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute ( -- online classes in Biblical law for women. She began working for Chalcedon as a volunteer in 1987 and has been on staff since 1992.

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