Woe To The Religious Profit Reapers: Matthew 23:23-24
““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew‬ ‭23‬:‭23‬-‭24‬
Jesus now looks at the practice of tithing. Many believe the tithe in the Old Testament amounted to 10% of the annual income, but this was actually collected three separate times annually. Numbers 18:20-24 points out that 10% was given to the Levites to support their temple services. Deuteronomy 14:22-24 says that another 10% was paid to the service of the sanctuary, commonly in cattle or grain. Then Deuteronomy 14:28-29 shows that every 3rd year another 10% was given to the poor to be eaten in their own dwelling. Altogether, nearly 1/3 of the property of the Jews was devoted to religious service by the Law. This was besides the voluntary offerings that were made.
The mention of mint, anise and cummin becomes intriguing in the text. These were herbs of little value and not considered part of the produce of the land mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:22, but the Pharisees required these as well. They were very meticulous in counting the tithe, but very sloppy with righteous living.
Notice the contrast Jesus set up in Matthew 23:23. They did well with eternal tithing, in fact the bigger tithe became an expression of pride and social status among the Jews. Refer to the story of the poor widow in Luke 21:1-4. The pious religious leaders would linger close to the treasury trying to quickly calculate what was given in the tithe to see who was greatest.
However, Jesus pointed out that they neglected weightier inward provisions of the law that included justice, mercy and faithfulness. Religion was reduced to an external show that did nothing to change the heart.
Thus Jesus applied a common proverb to the Pharisees. They were guilty of straining out gnats but swallowing camels. Some provisions of the Law like tithing they watched closer than modern IRS agents, but the important things of justice, mercy and faithfulness were totally ignored.
Do you see what was happening? They were extracting every denarius from the tithe of the poor, because from it they were compensated, but they closed their eyes to justice and mercy toward the orphan, widow and alien. This is where the previous charge Jesus made in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 becomes so grievous. They were padding their own pockets while exploiting the poor. They were devouring widows houses.
Though not stated in the text, they may have excused themselves from paying tithes on what they received as support from the tithes of the people. They were not farmers. They did not have crops or cattle from which to tithe.
No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites. They were not promise keepers, they were profit reapers. They had cashed in on the tithing system. It had become a scam. They were taking the cream off the top for themselves. Do you see the weight of this Woe Jesus pronounced against them?
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global