Meaning of Numbers: The Number One Tenth
The meaning of the number one tenth (1/10) in the Bible is tied primarily to tithing and the tithe system established in the Old Testament. The dedication of 10% not only is a worshipful act that acknowledges the Lord's blessings, it also teaches the giver generosity and concern for others.
Offering one tenth to honor God is an ancient practice. Abraham willing gave Melchizedek a tithe of his war booty after defeating Chedorlaomer's forces (Genesis 14, Hebrews 7:1 - 4). Jacob dreamed of a ladder (hence the phrase "Jacob's Ladder") that reached to heaven (Genesis 28). When he woke up, he vowed that if God would be with him he would give him a tithe.
"Since God will be with me, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, and I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God. And this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God's house. And of all that You shall give me, I will surely give the tenth to You" (Genesis 28:20 - 22, HBFV).
Scripture discusses a first, second, and possibly third, tithe that was set aside for a special purpose. The ancient Israelites were commanded to give their first tenth to the Levites, which was their primary source of income, since they were given no territorial inheritance in the Promised Land.
And behold, I have given the sons of Levi all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, the service of the tabernacle of the congregation . . .
But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit (Numbers 18:21, 24, HBFV).
A "second tithe" was to be set aside by the children of Israel each year to enable them to celebrate God's annual Feast (Holy) Days, especially the joyful Feast of Tabernacles.
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed that the field brings forth year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.
And you shall spend the money for whatever your soul desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household (Deuteronomy 14:22 - 23, 26).
God's people were also commanded to set aside, for the poor, one tenth every third and sixth years of a seven year cycle. It is open to some debate whether this amount was a different use of the second tithe in years 3 and 6 or was an entirely separate amount (a third tithe, for further research see the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia).
"At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up inside your gates.
"And the Levite, because he has no part nor inheritance with you, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do." (Deuteronomy 14:28 - 29, HBFV, see also 26:12 - 13).
Appearances of One Tenth
Ancient Israel was warned by God that any human king over them would demand one tenth of their wealth in order to support him and his rule (1Samuel 8:15 - 17).
After the Two Witnesses are killed, then resurrected three and a half days later, one tenth of Jerusalem will be destroyed by a great earthquake (Revelation 11:13).
Hidden References to One Tenth
God's word contains several hidden or often overlooked references to one tenth (1/10). For example, one day David returned from slaughtering the Philistines. In celebration of his victory, a number of women from the surrounding cities gathered and chanted the following in the presence of King Saul.
Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands (1Samuel 18:7).
King Saul, a man of war, became furious when the people attributed to him only one tenth of the success of David! This incident not only fed Saul's jealousy and paranoia, it was the catalyst for pursuing David's death (1Samuel 18:9 - 12).
Jesus, a short time before raising Lazarus from the dead, had ten lepers approach him and beg to be healed. While they walked away to show themselves to the priests, per the Lord's command, they were miraculously cleansed of their disease! Only one of the men (one tenth of the group), a hated Samaritan, came back to Christ to praise God and thank him for his mercy (Luke 17:11 - 19).
One of Jesus' parables involved a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins (one tenth of them). A single coin was quite valuable, as it was worth roughly a day's wages. After she finds the coin, which required a diligent search, she rejoices with her friends and neighbors. This symbolizes the joy heaven experiences when one sinner repents (Luke 15:8 - 10).
More Info on Biblical Meaning of One Tenth
God, through Isaiah, declared that only one tenth (1/10 or a tithe) of the people (those who numbered among the poorest, 2Kings 24:14), would be left in Judah after Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered it.
But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return and be consumed like the terebinth and like the oak being felled, yet its stump remains; so the holy seed shall be its stump (Isaiah 6:13).