About three hundred years later we read that Abram twice built an altar and he called on the name of Jehovah, who appeared to him.
"And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'I will give this land to your seed.' And he built an altar there to the LORD, Who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to a mountain on the east of Bethel. And he pitched his tent with Bethel toward the sea and Hai on the east. And he built an altar there to the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD." (Genesis 12:7-8)
At Mamre, Abram did the same, Genesis 13:18, and later, when inquiring of Jehovah, he was expressly commanded to sacrifice a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, each of them three years old, as well as a turtledove and a young pigeon, Genesis 15:9. We have yet another instance of Abraham building an altar when about to sacrifice his son, for whom, however, he ultimately substituted a ram.
We read, likewise, of the patriarch Isaac, that he built an altar at Beersheba, Genesis 26:25, and the same may be said of Jacob, at Shalem, Genesis 33:20, while at Bethel we are told that Jacob at first set up a pillar, and poured oil thereon, Genesis 28:18-19, which act in after years he repeated, adding to the oil a drink offering, Genesis 35:1, 6, 14
If now we review the data thus far selected, we see the first recorded act of the first two of Eve's sons manifesting a sense of dependence on, or obligation to, the deity, by presenting to Jehovah the firstfruits of their increase. We see men of succeeding generations offering to God of the choicest of clean beasts, of clean birds, and fruits of the ground, as well as a drink offering and oil. Thus, fully establishing in connection with abundant information from pagan literature, that in all ages in the ancient world, men have thought it their duty to offer a portion of their substance to the divine Being.
Returning from the slaughter of the kings with spoils of war, Abraham was met near Jerusalem by a kingly priest, Melchizedek, who brought to Abraham bread and wine, who blessed Abraham, who praised God for victory vouchsafed, and to whom Abraham offered a tenth of all. A question may here be asked as to the extent of Abraham's tithes: were they a tenth of all his spoils only, and so given voluntarily and specially on this particular occasion, or were they a tenth of all his income and something paid as a due?
Neither the Hebrew of Genesis nor the Greek of the Epistle to the Hebrews limits the word "all" to the spoils. In Hebrews 7:4 the writer argues that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because Abraham paid tithes to him. Now, when a man pays a tribute or due, we look upon the receiver as being, for the moment, superior to the giver; and the writer of the epistle adds that without contradiction the person less in dignity is blessed by the person who is greater in dignity. Hence we conclude that the tenth paid by Abraham was not merely an offering, which the patriarch was at liberty to render or to withhold as he pleased, but a payment of obligation.
This, too, appears the more likely because Abraham by right of conquest might have claimed all that he captured from Chedorlaomer. The king of Sodom, recognizing this, invites him to take the goods to himself, Genesis 14:21. But Abraham declines to take anything for himself, though, as a conqueror, he seems to have recognized that he had no jurisdiction over God's tenth; and while surrendering his own claim to nine-tenths of the spoil, he acted as though he could not surrender God's.
It seems, moreover, exceedingly probable that the priestly acts which Melchizedek performed for Abraham were simply such as this priest king would from time to time perform. And since Abraham often was dwelling within a day's journey of Salem, we need not at all conclude that this was either the first or the last occasion on which Abraham paid a tenth of his increase to Melchizedek. If the patriarch did so annually, it would be only in keeping with the practice of his Babylonian ancestors, and what we know was afterwards conceded by the Carthaginians to be due to their Phoenician priesthood.
Now it will be remembered that Abraham lived till the boyhood of Jacob; that Jacob was brought up in the faith of his grandfather; and that at Bethel God confirmed to Jacob and his posterity all the promises He made to Abraham. What, then, could be more natural than that Jacob should avow himself ready to practice Abraham's religious observances? He promises to take the God of Abraham for his own God, to dedicate a certain place to His worship as did Abraham, and also to follow his grandfather's practice in dedicating to God a tenth of all he should receive. But there are manifested certain points in Jacob's tithe-paying which we could not have certainly inferred in the offering of a tenth by Abram.
Jacob's vow was, manifestly, to be continued throughout his lifetime, and was not framed for the occasion or the journey, only. The second feature in Jacob's tenth differing from that of his grandfather, is, that no part of Jacob's tithe is mentioned as paid for the use of a priesthood. We read no more of Melchizedek or of his successor; but, all the same, God's claim is not remitted or abated, and Jacob's tithe-paying is presented to us as an act of homage to God.
We may venture the hypothesis that God, from the beginning, taught Adam that it was the duty of man to render a portion of his increase to his Maker, and that that portion was to be not less than a tenth, then we shall see that the facts recorded in Genesis not only do not contradict such a supposition, but corroborate and strengthen it.
In accord with this theory, also, Abel's fuller sacrifice was accepted; and so sacrifice and tithe-paying may be presumed to have continued all along the centuries to the days of Noah. Then, when his descendants built cities in Babylonia and afterwards became scattered, they would naturally take with them, among other primeval customs and traditions, the offering of sacrifice and tithe-paying. And thus would be accounted for, only a few centuries later, the existence of these customs as recorded in cuneiform literature on the tablets we possess, as well as the information given us about tithe-paying in the literatures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
It may be objected, of course, that we do not read in Genesis of a law for the payment of a tenth; which is no proof, however, that no such law had been given, seeing there existed various laws in primeval times of which we have no written evidence now. Do any, for instance, doubt that there was, from the beginning, a law against murder, for breaking of which Cain was punished; or against adultery, in keeping with which Judah said of Tamar, "Bring her forth and let her be burnt"? Genesis 38:24. Similarly, it is possible that tithe-paying may have been among the "commandments and the statutes and the laws" of God which Abraham is praised for keeping, but which have not come down to us in writing, Genesis 26:5.
Melchizedek is the first man in the Bible called a priest. Amraphel of Shinar is the first man called a king, Genesis 14:1, and Abraham the first called a prophet. But when these three lived, men had been on the earth for a great many years; and are we to suppose that mankind had lived century after century without priests, kings, and prophets?
Again, Noah is the first who is expressly called a "righteous man" and Abraham is the first who is said to have "believed in God," yet we know that before these, Abel and Enoch were both righteous, and also believed in God. Once more: the human race had been on the earth, according to the received chronology, about a thousand years before we read of musical instruments, Genesis 4:21, and it was a thousand years later still when Abraham weighed shekels of silver as payment. But he would be a bold man who would affirm that before these dates, respectively, mankind possessed neither music nor money.
The mere omission, therefore, of the definite mention of a law concerning tithe-giving, in the less than a dozen chapters given to us in Genesis concerning the early history of the world, is no proof or presumption whatever that such a law did not exist.