Why did the Israelites get to use tithe money to buy alcohol?

Question: In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 it says that the Israelites were to bring a tenth of their produce and flocks to the place God would choose for his sanctuary. Those who lived far away from that sanctuary could exchange their tithe for silver and travel with it to the sanctuary rather than bear the prohibitive cost or energy of transporting goods. It says in verse 26 that they could use the silver to buy whatever they liked (whatever their hearts desired, according to the New King James Version), including cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything they wished. Then they were to eat it in the presence of the Lord. Weren’t the tithes supposed to be for the Levites and priests? How did having a family meal fit in with this? What about the use of alcohol?

Answer: Numbers 18:21-29 specifies that the tithes are to be given to the Levites as those who maintain the Tabernacle and do not have their own land to support their families. This passage seems to be an additional perspective given by Moses that a portion of the tithe was to be used in a festal meal at the sanctuary to be shared in fellowship with family and, most importantly, with God. It would have been impossible for each family to eat the whole tithe. It is understood that only a small portion of the tithe was to be used for this meal. The rest would go to the Levites. The fellowship meal would be a way of celebrating God’s goodness to the whole family (they did have to eat, after all, when they were at the sanctuary) and of acknowledging God’s presence during their year of work and now as they celebrated.

The use of alcohol is never prohibited in Scripture. In fact, it is encouraged as a blessing from the Lord to be used with joy and responsibly (Psalm 104:15; Isaiah 55:1; John 2:1-11). However, over-indulgence is prohibited. Drunkenness is considered an improper and foolish use of alcohol. See Genesis 9:21; 19:30-35; Proverbs 20:1; 23:20,21,31-35; Ephesians 5:18.

We are meant to treat food and wine sacramentally. That is, we are to treat them as holy symbols of God’s divine love. He has provided everything for us to enjoy. Instead, we tend to indulge. We cannot get enough of a good thing. Instead of rejoicing in the God who gave us that great tasting meal, we greedily swallow it down and look for more. The experience of the taste becomes more important than the giver of both taste and what tastes good. If we see the Giver of good things as more important than the gifts themselves, we may fulfill our hearts’ desires and lustily worship the God of abundance and joy at our meals, our jobs, our parties, our church services, and every other part of our lives. He will be the focus of our enjoyment, not just His good gifts.

Randall Johnson

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