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THE TITHE IN SCRIPTURE
CAIN AND A BEL
Offerings to Jehovah, 7.-Cain's sin anciently connected with failure
in tithe-paying, 7.-Bearing of the Septuagint on the rejection of Cain's offering, 8.-Sacrifices of Noah, Abram, and Jacob, 11.
HE picture-writings of Egypt, the cuneiform
tablets of Babylonia, and early writers of Greece and Rome inform us that before the Bible was written, and apart therefrom, it was an almost universal practice among civilised nations for people to pay tithes to their gods ; but none tell us when, or where, the practice began, or who issued the law for its observance.
Our object therefore in this volume is to investigate what may be learned concerning tithepaying from Holy Scripture, and from Jewish writings of the period between the Old and New Testaments.
If we begin by inquiring concerning tithe-paying from the book of Genesis, we naturally turn first to such passages as tell of the offering of material
1 Adversus Judæos, n. 2.
things to Jehovah. We find at least six persons who made such offerings—namely, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abram, Isaac, and Jacob; and we proceed to ask what we learn from them as to patriarchal or what is called pre-Mosaic tithe-paying.
The rejection of Cain's offering was by very early Christian writers connected with tithing. Tertullian, for instance, in the third century wrote that God rejected the sacrifice of Cain, because what he offered he did not rightly divide; following herein a Latin version of Genesis iv. 7, made from the Septuagint. * Some perhaps would call this reading a meaning into the text, rather than drawing one out of it: but before we thus judge let us see what can be said in its favour.
Concerning Cain and Abel, our present Hebrew text* reads (as literally as I can translate it) thus :
2 Gen. iv. 3-7
"And it came to pass at the end of days Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a present to Jehovah. And Abel he also brought of the firstlings of his sheep and of their fat. And Jehovah looked favourably upon Abel and upon his present; but upon Cain and upon his present
* Clement of Rome also (Ep. ad Corinth. n. 4), who lived in the first century, and Irenæus, who wrote in the century following (Adv. Hæres. bk. iv. ch. 34), both quote the seventh verse according to the Septuagint reading. In the fourth century Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, explaining Psalm cxviii., maintained that the receiving of tithes was a natural commandment from the beginning. So, again, in the twelfth century did Hugo, Abbot of St. Victor's, and Peter Comestor ; whilst, five centuries later, Grotius wrote upon this text that the sense, according to the Septuagint, was, that Cain either did not offer the best, or else that he gave a less proportion than the tenth," which,” he continues, "from the most ancient ages was the proportion due to God."
He did not look favourably. And it vexed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell. And Jehovah said to Cain, Wherefore did it vex thee, and wherefore did thy countenance fall? If thou wilt do well, shall not thy face be lifted up? but if thou wilt not do well, sin is couching at the door." *
But passing now to the Septuagint, or Greek, translation of Genesis, this sixth verse runs as follows :
“And the Lord God said to Cain, Wherefore didst thou become vexed, and wherefore did thy countenance fall ? If thou didst rightly offer, but didst not rightly divide, didst thou not sin ? Hold thy peace.”
This Greek version, be it remembered, was made about three hundred years before the Christian era, from a Hebrew copy that must have been more than a thousand years older than the oldest Hebrew manuscript we possess now. This translation, moreover, was perfectly familiar to the writers of the New Testament. And if we may reverently picture the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews glancing over his Greek Bible before penning his chapter of Old Testament worthies, we should remember that he had before him these very words concerning Cain's not dividing rightly, when he wrote,
By faith Abel offered unto God a more abundant sacrifice (thelova Ovoiav) than Cain.” 1
Various suggestions, of course, are offered to show * Professor Cheyne (Encyclopædia Biblica, I. 620, Article, “Cain") translates the sixth verse thus : “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen ? Surely, if thou doest well, thou canst lift up thy head, and if thou doest not well, thy sin must cause it to fall; from irritating words abstain, and thou take heed to thyself.”
1 Heb. xi. 4.
in what consisted the sin of Cain ; * but, be that as it may, Abel is said to have offered “by faith.” Now faith has reference to obedience, which implies that a previous command had been made known. Where no law has been given there can be no transgression; and unless directions had been communicated to these two worshippers as to the amount or proportion of their property to bring, and if either was at liberty to offer as much or as little as he pleased, then it is not easy to see why Cain should by implication be blamed for bringing less; the occasion being, I take it, a farmer and a grazier each bringing the firstfruits of his increase, not so much as a propitiatory sacrifice (for we are not told they had sinned), but rather as a present or thankoffering to God in token of His lordship over them—just as we may read' was done from the earliest times in Egypt, and which illustrates an almost universally accepted belief in the ancient world, whether pagan or otherwise, namely that it was not lawful to eat of the new fruit until God's portion had been divided off from the rest. †
1 See Sacred Tenth, p. 2.
* A favourite one is that he brought no blood. But neither, in after years, did an Israelite farmer bring blood, when he presented his firstfruits to Jehovah, as commanded in Deuteronomy xxvi. 1–11. The Hebrew word commonly used for a sacrifice with blood, na! (Zebach), does not occur in the passage under consideration ; for both Cain's fruits and Abel's firstlings are called by the same word, on? (Minchah), a present.
† In illustration of this I may observe that when on the Lower Amur, in Eastern Siberia, I found among the Gilyaks-a people quite untouched by Western ideas—the practice of taking some of the blood of the first salmon caught during the season, and applying it to the mouth of a rudely carved god, seated upon a fish's back, a